Eddie Hobbs: Government lost in dark ages of obduracy and secrecy

Leo Varadkar with his predecessor as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny. Since the economic crash a decade ago, Ireland has changed in ways that the governing parties seem unable to understand. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Throwing money at a crisis is no longer acceptable in Ireland. Eddie Hobbs says it is time for the Government to catch up with the values of its people.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar has said receiving the phone call this morning that planning permission had been granted was the best phone call he ever received in politics.

“Short of an asteroid hitting the planet”, he said, there was enough money to build the hospital.

RTÉ News, April 28, 2016

The dramatic resetting of values in Ireland after the failure of banks and the destruction of family prosperity hasn’t received much academic study but it is accurate to say the country continues to change with a quiet strength and resolve that appears lost on an establishment wedded to reimposing old values.

This is clear from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s spinning around the fiscal crater at National Children’s Hospital.

Plainly, Irish values have changed, clear from the emergence of liberal Ireland. Activism has sprouted, the new citizen is not just speaking out but getting stuck in. Success is being redefined in new ways, by how well we feel physically and mentally, by the lifestyles we enjoy, not the trophies we buy.

The new currency is wellness: The Irish are taking to mindfulness, mediation, yoga, less alcohol, sobriety, running, cycling, hill walking, gardening and the fresh air, a response to the suffocating intrusion of the on-line world.

It is Operation Transformation on a vast scale. The new stresses are over food content, plastic wrapping, nutrition, family diet, kids’ mental health, weight, obesity, and climate.

In the private sector, upskilling and education is flourishing, start-ups are blossoming in an entrepreneurial spirit grounded in a new found feeling of taking responsibility; hell try it, fail if you must, but learn from it, get back up.

Redemption is encouraged, failure forgiven. The comeback is the new story in town. It is a changing Ireland. But not everywhere.

Opposing this new found spirit of resourcefulness is a public adminstration that is lost in the dark ages of Edwardian obduracy and secrecy, where innovation, incentivisation, key performance measurement, and milestones are regarded by the old guard as heresy.

This is a world where pay is decided by age, increases are by increments, youthful energy and ambition is lobotomised, where trade unions, as price setters, defend changes to work practices like the Red Army at Stalingrad.

Not a step back is the mantra. The result is chronic crises in accessing health and housing and a collective failure to join the dots, to work collegiately to solve complex enterprise-wide problems, to experiment with and adopt new technologies, without distorting it as a means to plunder more tax receipts.

Meanwhile, the political system is captive, not master. It is terrified by insider power and with no incentive to reform because all the remuneration and pensions, including those for the trade union officer class, are interconnected and interdependent.

Benchmarking was a masterstroke, arguably the most successful labour price-setting cartel in the history of modern democracies. The Dáil makes law, the Deep State sets the rules, privileges, and prices.

The Government’s limp response to the National Children’s Hospital fiasco shows that there has been no learning and the decision to time the PWC report to co-incide with Brexit, March 29, is noted.

It is not the colossal overrun that is now the issue. It is the manner of the response; the cover-up, spinning, and failure to accept responsibility.

It is an asteroid strike on this Government because it goes to the core of its competence. Unhappily, the next government won’t be any different, it will just make different sounds because there is no political leader yet prepared to lead real change in public adminstration. It is forbidden.

The financial crisis was the last opportunity to reset how Ireland is governed and administered, but Labour, the political wing of trade unions, demanded and got public sector reform, precisely so there wouldn’t be any. Reform is taboo.

But the Irish today are not the same people who rode the Tiger, where zeroes on balance sheets counted most.

This is not the nod-and-wink Ireland dominated by buccaneering middle aged Irishmen closest to the nexus of power. This is the Ireland that stunned the world by introducing marriage equality, takes to the streets to voice concerns, signs petitions on social media, that demands higher standards of service and that aren’t misled by establishment theatre nor influenced by its outer rim, RTÉ panels stuffed with apologists on the tax payroll. This is an Ireland that thinks for itself.

Ireland has changed. The question is what will cause the Irish people to finally say that enough is enough?

We’ve been left aghast by systemic Garda failures and scandals, by the targeting of a truthful Garda and his family, by chronic housing shortages, by unaffordable rents, by homelessness, by chaotic access to hospitals and a Children’s Hospital in the wrong location and masked in a fairytale about adding a maternity hospital there.

The question is, will the crater at the James become the rallying point in which to bury the last dinosaur? Let’s hope so.

Eddie Hobbs is a financial advisor, television presenter, and author.

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