A Vote For Change

There will be an election within the year. People who claim knowledge of these things say it will most likely take place around next Easter.

Lots of bloggers have been commenting on the political parties’ maneuverings as they try to position themselves. I’ve never been that interested in that side of things- polls, photo ops, the doings of people who build up a perceived power by attempting to limit or influence the flow of information to the electorate. They all put me off. They put me off because they feel less a part of the real business of politics- making decisions- than PR- the justifying or obscuring of decisions.

I turn 30 this year. And over the last two years the realization has crept up on me that decisions made now are going to have effects that will last longer than I will. That may seem an obvious statement to you but I can honestly say that it came as a shock to realise that there might not be a chance to go back and fix our mistakes.

Let’s start with life and death.

Figures released this week via Freedom of Information show that MRSA infections rose, not fell, in the last year. Those figures represent injured and dead people. Avoidably dead.

I have no time for anyone or any group of people who tell me that change comes slowly in these areas. Where lives will be lost, change must be forced to come quickly. And where there has been no improvement- where there has been the opposite- how can staying the course be justified?

From a perverted pragmatism born of the absence of a moral base to policymaking, Ireland has been complicit in an officially sanctioned programme of torture.

I never thought I’d write that sentence when I was in college.

On the Tuesday after a Bank Holiday I have got into a macabre habit without noticing it. I scan the weekend’s road deaths to make sure nobody I know was killed. I shouldn’t have to do that.

Did you know that the Chairman of the National Safety Council resigned last year? He said that he needed to take responsibility for failing to convince the Government to invest in its own road safety policies. The government took no responsibility. It appointed Gay Byrne instead. Uncle Gaybo hasn’t told us how his powers to convince are getting on so far.

1688 people have been killed on the roads since the last election year, 2002. [Garda and Roaddeaths.ie links]

These are some life and death decisions- not to invest in a road safety policy which could save lives. Not to invest the time and effort needed to eradicate MRSA from Irish hospitals. To turn a blind eye to torture, for fear of what the current US administration might do to rebuke us for our morals.

Most decisions made in the political realm aren’t as dramatic. Mistakes lead to financial losses rather than lost lives. Or they erode the quality of our lives, instead of ending them outright.

The last 16 years have seen the biggest building boom this country has ever seen. Houses had to be built, no question. After all, where would we all live?

The decision here was taken to not try to answer that question. Or, to put it another way, to leave answering it up to the people who owned land banks. It’s said that to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Well, to a developer with land, his land always looks like the ideal place to build houses and apartments.

It should be the planners and local government who tell him whether he’s right or wrong. That check on personal profit repeatedly failed at the expense of the public good.

The result is that my friend only recently moved closer to her job. She’d commuted for years to Dublin from Mullingar. Another friend spent months chasing developers to try to force them to finish an estate after the houses were sold.
And one client of our office had to take action against the developers of their estate when their house cracked in two down the middle. It had been built on a duck pond.

Add your own story. The root cause is the same. The public good (quality of housing stock, integrated planning, a pattern of development that allows people to enjoy their home life) is sacrificed for the private profit of the developers.

The party which is in power most in Ireland also receives the most money from property developers. Failing to decide to use our building boom to give us the housing we needed was a decision in itself.

Did you see that the Railway Procurement Agency recently proudly announced that the Luas was a roaring success? It had so many passengers that it no longer needed a subsidy.

Here’s another way of looking at this apparent success. The low anticipated usage numbers, on which the decision to build an on-street tram line, rather than a fast, high-capacity, integrated metro system was based, were wrong.

People are riding the Red Line from Town to Tallaght and back again. Every day, they are squashed into a sweaty crush because the figures used by the people who made that decision took no account of the accelerating growth evident in Ireland from 1987 on. And, here’s what makes me grind my teeth – they were alerted to the mistake when they could have done something about it. They decided to go ahead anyway.

Similar decisions are being made about the unintegrated Metro lines being planned at the moment. Look forward to frustration and chaos at the proposed Stephen’s Green Metro station for the rest of your life because the decision has been made to ignore the usual underground model according to which lines begin and end outside the city centre to prevent overcrowding and ease cross-town travel.

More money was spent on not building Bertie’s Sports Stadium than it cost to actually construct Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

Electronic voting was always a solution in search of a problem. It became the white elephant it is now through arrogance, stupidity and a determination to spend any national funds rather than admit the original decision was wrong. The most recent report of the Commission on E-Voting diplomatically provided the government with a fig leaf. It listed three areas where paper voting was better and four where electronic voting was superior. One up for E-voting, you might think. Unless you looked at what the respective areas of superiority were. Paper voting is less likely to result in Major Counting Errors. E-Voting might make it easier to implement a new way of counting our votes, if we decide to do that in the future.

I know where my priorities lie there.

And then finally to the silent issue in Irish decisions- the unsayable truth running through all these stories. If you are a person interested in power for its own sake- in the exertion of control for psychological or personal gain- you will join the party most likely to be in power. By 2007, Fianna Fáil will have been in power for 17 and a half of the last 20 years. The institutions of the state cannot fail to have been effected by such hegemony. If you are an ambitious lawyer, Civil Servant, Garda Officer, Planning Official or Army officer you will understand that your future prospects will depend on loyalty to the Executive’s wishes rather than the nation’s need.

This election will decide whether we continue on the road we’re on now. Whether we get the same decisions or new chances opening up. I don’t have any illusions about the opposition but they have a single shining advantage- they represent a change. They can make new decisions, go in new directions. And they can reverse the bad decisions and wrong directions we’ve taken.

But this election is only half the fight. No non-Fianna Fail government has ever been re-elected. To break the hegemony, people working for the good of the nation must know that they won’t be punished for it when the natural party of government returns.

I’m looking for ways to act to effect change. Like a lot of people, I have a limited amount of free time. Quite limited, when I consider my personal and professional commitments. I want to get the most effect for the least investment of time.

I’d like this essay to be the start of a discussion about what form that effective action might take. If you’d like to be part of that discussion, or you’re already having it and would like to invite some more people to join in, leave a comment or send me an email.

Bad decisions cost lives, money and opportunities.

Let’s change them.


  • cian says:

    Excellent piece. I was thinking about some of those topics myself after reading Village yesterday but that is one hell of a post. Any chance you could post it to irishelection? Or i can post it for you under your name.

    The Luas point struck me as a very good one. The main current to alot of these issues is bad or corrupt planning based on an inverted set of priorities and little or no public accountability.

    Some of the bad decisions made are hard to make up for.

    I think action is essential. Fundamentally though the introduction of an ethical dimension to irishpolitics is essential. Admitting that TDs and CLLrs are not there to peddle decisions en-masse but to facilitate self-government by the irish people.

  • Simon McGarr says:

    Cian- I’ve reposted the essay to the Irishelection blog.

    Thanks for the comments. I’m thinking that if there was enough interest, it might be worth having an exploratory meet-up- maybe next weekend?

  • […] Simon McGarr issues a considered yet empassioned challenge to the Nation at Tuppenceworth and Irish Election dot com, seeking to rouse us from what I am sure he would term its somnambulent complacency.  It appears that Simon wants to start a conversation and everyone is invited to participate.  Well, there are far less entertaining conversationalists out there, so I encourage people to engage with him and perhaps add a link to your own blog – if you have one.  If you don’t, as Take That were wont so dulcetly to chant, it only takes a minute, girl. And I think I’ll pick up a HB pencil and chew the end into an acrid pulpy mush, ceasing intermintently furiously to jot blog ideas in my moleskine notebook. […]

  • cian says:

    Change is a tough thing to bring about. There are surely ways and means though. Im interested in all things revolutionary 😉

  • celtictigger says:

    Simon’s piece quite succinctly puts forth the case for the total lack of quality government, and the endemic canker of too-long in power hegemonies.
    Quality is the measure of how well something meets or exceeds expectations. Ultimately however, Fianna Fail (who apart from the last 20 years have actually been in Government for most of the life of this State, with only occasional speedbumps in the way) have only one expectation – o retain power at all costs. This breeds an endemic short-term focus on the next local election, the next soundbite on PrimeTime, the next General Election. A culture of divide and conquer seems to exist in government when it comes to dealing with Civil Servants – an absolute guaranteed way to ensure that the dots will never get joined. And the upshot is that should a new broom of government be elected, it will be difficult to turn the oil-tanker of Civil Service culture and thinking, which means that the well-planned policies (if there are any) will be trickier to deploy and the vultures of FF will sit in the wings to pick over the carcass and reinvent themselves in the public image as the only real alternative government, while the “new team” slowly morph into a tired parody of themselves cloned with dna from the ousted incumbent.

    This is what is happening in the UK, where Blair has become apparently more right wing than Thatcher while David Cameron takes on the mantle of ‘cool PM in waiting’ while chatting with Jonathon Ross, a public persona that the Guitar-wielding Blair of yore invented.

    Cynical… moi?

  • celtictigger says:

    Clarification – Blair didn’t invent Johnathon Ross. Mr and Mrs Ross did, during a power cut in the late 1960s apparently.

    Blair did invent the image of ‘cool-dad’ Prime Minister, which David Cameron is evolving into ‘cool uncle Dave’ as we speak… the slick bike riding b****d.

    Pete Townsend wrote it best… “here comes the new boss, the same as the old boss”.

  • auds says:

    Posted a sort-of reply at my blog.
    Good piece, Simon.

  • […] Simon has a post on the next election here. Auds has a reply too. Simon says it’s time for change and to vote the current Government out. I think the time has run out on ALL parties. They all need to be voted out of office. Reboot the political system in Ireland. The others will get in and fuck things up just as much. Still I also abhor the fact that voters will keep the Bertie show in office because Enda and Pat are clowns and will make it worse. […]

  • […] By 2007 the current coalition government will have been in government for 17 of the last 20 years. Simon McGarr has written an empassioned post listing some of their many failures and calling for change in Ireland. […]

  • […] A recent post here by Simon sent some ripples around the bloggersphere. Some responses were reasoned, some less so. Some were temperate, some less so. What was striking was how (small-c) conservative many of them were. Change is considered dodgy stuff for a number of reasons. Frank Neary is a supporter of the current government, so he obviously won’t be hoping for any change. This is an easy to understand position and requires little examination. The remarks of others are less easy to comprehend. […]

  • […] It’s all very well to issue a single sustained clarion blast. It’s a little tougher to actually gather forces and have a clear idea of what to do with them. […]

  • peddle says:

    I was wondering about this, thanks for the information.

  • Mike says:

    There is a new technology that eliminates MRSA, called byotrol, but I think that there is penny pinching going on and that’s why it hasn’t been snapped up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.