With all the hoo-ha following the kicking delivered to the government parties by the electorate, you might have imagined that they were guilty of something shocking and unusual by the standards of Irish politicians, but of course, they’re guilty of no such thing.
Anyone arriving from another planet — Germany for example — might easily believe that the Labour Party had imposed crushing austerity on the weak and the poor when in fact the most that any junior partner in the current coalition could ever hope to achieve would be some sort of cushioning of the blows. What’s more, it was inevitable that the junior partner would sustain most of the damage from irate supporters when election-time came around. If Labour didn’t know that when they went into partnership with Fine Gael, then they don’t deserve to survive.
It says a lot about the buttoned-up nature of Irish public life that people like Pat Rabbitte and Eamon Gilmore take refuge in pomposity, put on the suits and grind out the clichés with a straight face instead of doing what any self-respecting left-leaning politician would do: ring the alarms. Tell the truth. Admit that they were going into government with a party whose history contains a deep-seated contempt for the weak and the poor.
Just tell the truth. It’s going to be bad, but we’re going into government with these guys to stop it being even worse.
If Labour had shown that sort of honesty, they wouldn’t be on the floor now, but instead, at one and the same time, Labour sold out and bought in. They sold out their principles and they bought in to the power trip.
Who could forget Rabbitte’s extraordinarily self-important performance when he expounded on the reasons why Ireland had to go along with Shell’s theft of our energy resources, including a detailed lecture on the scientific background? It was probably the moment when his credibility hit the floor, this man with a vague Arts degree and a lifetime working as a union official, trying to sound like he knew what he was saying as he puffed and huffed on highly complex technical matters that he patently did not understand.
In doing so, Rabbitte offered a clue to the real underlying problem, which we’ll return to presently. But for now, let’s focus on the Irish State’s indifference to the weak, the poor, the sick, the old and the vulnerable. Despite our longstanding habit of congratulating ourselves for being the most compassionate nation on the face of this earth, or any other, the historical reality doesn’t support our fantasy.
It’s true that we’re more than willing to dip into our pockets for some go-away money whenever we see people suffering on our TV screens, but we don’t want to pay for a proper system of supports here at home. We don’t want to pay the sort of tax it would take to provide these services. More to the point, we don’t want to burden the wealthy with the sort of taxes they’d have to pay in a fair society, we don’t want to impose the sort of corporation tax any normal country would charge, we don’t want to deny the lawyers and the doctors the sort of outrageous fees that would get them laughed out of most other EU countries.
That’s why the Rape Crisis Centre in the Mid-West has to close for a month due to lack of funding. If you were planning to get raped, hold off till next month. This isn’t a good time.
That’s why HSE officials have been phoning people to find out if their terminal cancer went away.
Right from the start, this little State has been based on property rights. Our Constitution is founded on the very notion of defending private wealth, but long before de Valera framed the Constitution under the careful scrutiny of Archbishop John Charles McQuaid, independent Ireland was created by people who cared nothing for fairness. Was it not Kevin O’Higgins, the Free State’s first justice minister who described himself and his colleagues as the most conservative-minded revolutionaries that ever put through a successful revolution?
To such people, emigration and TB were allies. In all their talk of Irish freedom, these revolutionaries were not thinking of the poor, the downtrodden, the sick, the uneducated, the hungry or the vulnerable. That wasn’t Irish freedom in their ultramontane Catholic world. These people were thinking of freedom for their wealthy friends and family to become even wealthier, freed from the interference of the British establishment. They dreamed of a new Ireland, dominated by clergy, by doctors and by lawyers, where the population were free to follow their orders, instead of obeying a non-Catholic foreign elite.
Fast forward thirty years to the Mother and Child Scheme, where Archbishop McQuaid found common cause with those privileged medical consultants who stood to lose money and authority over their patients, if you want an example of Irish freedom in microcosm.
O’Higgins himself, a member of a privileged and wealthy elite, presided as Justice minister over a notorious system of political assassination and torture, carried out under the guidance of a murderous thug, Joe McGrath, who went on to become fabulously wealthy via his Sweepstakes fraud. Look at the surnames of the families that went on to dominate the legal profession and medicine in Ireland. See how many of them are the descendants of those who took power in 1921 in the name of Irish freedom.
Last week, I had a friend visiting, and since we had a free day to spare, I took him on a whistle-stop tour of interesting places around Limerick, including the spectacular Ardnacrusha hydro-electric scheme.
Tellingly, there were those in the 1920s who opposed the Shannon Scheme on the grounds that it was a form of Communism but even now, nearly ninety years on, it’s still a deeply impressive achievement. A huge canal taking most of the flow of the River Shannon through cuttings of rock and 18-metre-high embankments, delivering 400 cubic metres of water per second to the four great turbines that eventually came to supply 80% of Ireland’s electricity. It was deeply impressive for its time — briefly becoming the biggest such scheme in the world — and has been used as an inspiration by many great civil engineering projects around the globe since then. It’s still impressive, as anyone who has approached it on the water will tell you.
But it was also a place where 4,000 Irish labourers worked in conditions of misery, where entire families shared cow-sheds with a dozen other families, rented to them by local farmers who charged the working men 20 of the 35 shillings they earned weekly for the privilege. And those 35 shillings were what the government insisted Siemens-Schuckert must pay, and not a penny more, because they saw the Shannon Scheme as a way of forcing wages down nationally. People walked hundreds of miles in the hope of finding work at Ardnacrusha, many of them forced to go there by their local labour exchanges.
Does any of this seem familiar?
Inevitably, given the starvation wages and the appalling conditions, union problems were going to arise, but luckily, the very man was on hand to act as labour consultant to Siemens: none other than Joe McGrath, murderer, torturer, former head of the dreaded CID and future multi-millionaire thanks to the Hospital Sweepstakes. With Joe’s help, and by leaning on any local officials who dared to comment on the dreadful conditions, the government of the day, good Christians to a man, forced the project through, despite the many deaths from injury and sickness.
At least it was all done in the new free Ireland and not under the yoke of foreign imperialists.
These same conservative revolutionaries built a free Ireland that was far from free if you were poor. A labourer’s child caught stealing an apple or playing truant could expect to be sent to an industrial school, to be raped and beaten by the Christian Brothers. A girl who became pregnant could expect to be placed in the tender care of some order of sexually-frustrated nuns who took their libidinous rage out on her, making of her a slave and in many cases killing the offending baby through neglect and flinging it into a mass grave, as we have seen in reports this week.
They went on to ban contraception and divorce. They created a theocracy where all unapproved foreign literature was banned, at least as far as it was accessible to the poor who might possibly be corrupted by having their intellects stimulated.
They handed every last means of making a profit over to the same elites who had goaded them on when they fought for their bizarre notion of freedom, and it wasn’t just Fine Gael’s predecessors, Cumann na nGaedheal. Dev’s crowd were no strangers to trickery either, then or now.
After all, it was Fianna Fáil that tore up the railways so that the Roche brothers could build their Roadstone empire, a conglomerate that eventually went on to build the concrete wall around the Palestinians in Israel. That same company somehow managed to get the construction of the hugely-profitable Westlink toll bridge in Dublin, for which the State had obligingly provided the M50 motorway infrastructure on each side of the river crossing, thereby delivering the customers to their door.
I promised to return to the real underlying problem.
Clearly, there’s something profoundly wrong with us as a people, since we don’t seem to have any fellow-feeling for each other. We seem to lack a sense of solidarity even though you might point out how great we are when it comes to sporting events and the like, but that’s not the same thing.
We clearly have no solidarity when it comes to defending rape victims. We provide the fewest medical consultants per head of population compared to every other country in Europe. We have a police force that has been exposed for its utter insularity and suspicion of the ordinary citizen.
We’re capable of producing thoroughly heartless bureaucracies, as we have seen with the HSE which not only delegates junior officials to ask parents if their children still have Down Syndrome, but which makes women under threat of breast cancer wait until they form an administratively convenient cohort. Our doctors let mothers die in childbirth rather than face the wrath of a rabid Catholic minority.
Forget all this old nonsense about the Irish being the most compassionate people in the world. This is a savage, heartless little country, red in tooth and claw, where only the rich survive unharmed. If you want proper care, hop on a bus and cross the border where they suffer under the jackboot of British imperialism.
There is no tradition in this country of governments caring about the wellbeing of our citizens, and I don’t know why people now are behaving as if they’re surprised.
We, as a nation, need therapy.