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.
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.
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.