"No confidence"

Gary Murphy, Elaine Byrne and Eoghan Harris were on The Last Word with Matt Cooper yesterday for a “no confidence” debate. Listen to it here.

Elaine Byrne spoke for me –  a 22 year old Irishman – about feeling completely let-down by the State’s reaction to economic depression. While Gary Murphy argues against her on some elements I’m not sure his feelings are all that different, just less extreme. Eoghan Harris is a fool.

Partial transcript and comment below.

Matt Cooper: Elaine, I was asking about this off-air, you were telling me you’re so despairing of state the country’s in you’re even thinking about leaving the country.

Elaine Byrne: Yeah, I mean, this is an independent report, this is not a report by any other entity that the finger of blame can be laid at that they have some agenda. This is an independent report that said that these mistakes were home-grown, self-inflicted. And it’s just… it just to me seems that nothing has changed, even after this, nothing has changed. There is no commitment or recognition that we have to change things like how political appointments are made, how political funding is done, how local government is done, how the stucture of advice is given in Ireland.

I look at my siblings […] and they’re all aged between 17 and 31… I look at my generation and I look at my siblings and I look at my friends who have already emigrated and I have to ask myself, what is the point anymore? What is… like… if we’re just going to get to a point where in five-years, ten-years, time we’re going to be having another report where the same mistakes and the same things are going [to be highlighted]… and it’s just like a hamster-wheel going over and over again. And I just don’t see what there is to fight for anymore…

Gary Murphy: Well Matt, me and you were in college in the 80s, you know? And that was pretty depressing, you know? And we came through it, like… while I, I can understand Elaine’s despair in one way but if we were all to take that attitude we might as well just throw in the towel as a country completely.

[EB interrupting] In the 80s the government changed… in the 80s [there were reforms…] It’s worse than the 80s…

GM: […] Well you know I was in college in the 80s, I grew up in working class Cork in the 80s in the inner city where there was no jobs, you know? And we had to fight our way through it. And if Ireland as a state is to adopt this negative attitude we won’t get anywhere. There should of course be bye-elections, there will be a chance at the next general election… you cannot say let’s have an election…

MC: Let’s bring in Eoghan Harris on that point…

EH: […] This is an economic recession, it has been sort of parlayed as by various media philosophers – especially using The Irish Times as a platform – as sort of major structural cultural apocalyptic crisis. It’s not actually, it’s just a recession. It’s not true to say it’s specific and domestic to us – it’s specific and domestic to us in terms that we brought it about ourselves – but it’s the same kind of recession in that we’ve seen in other countries for the same kind of reasons.

[…] But I want to say this to Elaine specifically; we could bolt all the stable doors we want after the last lot of Seanie Fitzpatrick horses went but it’s the nature of human beings [that…] new forms of gangster-ism, new forms of malfeasance [are created and] are being practiced and planned even as we speak. You can never regulate any economy or any human politic as Elaine seems to think you can.

No, Eoghan, but you can try. Just because you can’t stop something does not mean you should not attempt to try to stop it; think drug addiction or alcoholism. You can try to regulate so that when Government officials and industry chiefs or lobbyists meet their discussions are minuted and logged. You can try to reduce the influence political donors like Ken Rohan have on tax policy by regulating the political donations system. That’s what regulations are there to do. You can try to prevent massive, bankrupting, devastating white collar crime by increasing the likelihood of prosecutions in future by amending the relevant laws. Eoghan Harris can call that bolting the doors after “the Seanie Fitzpatrick horses are gone”, I call it bolting them before the steeds of the next Seanie arrive.

You can introduce political reforms to decrease the influence developers place on local councils to rezone land. You can try to restore trust and engagement with the political process by amending the functions of the Dáil to increase the relevance of the Opposition. You could hold by-elections in a timely manner to – at the very least – give the impression to the electorate that they’re actually valued by the leadership of the State. You can do all this to reduce the chance of a similar collapse in future and thus any more people having to – as Gary Murphy puts it – “fight” their way up, again. Because nobody wants their child or their sibling to have to fight their way up, honourable as the stories may sound when told later by those few who happen to win the fight.

Yet here we are, with a Government that refuses to even try any of the above. One that prefers to maintain the status quo than accept its mistakes. One that won’t allow terms of reference of a banking inquiry to examine its own role in the collapse because – and this is the only conclusion I can draw – it believes its continuance matters more than the democratic health of the nation. A full banking inquiry may undermine it politically, therefore it must be avoided even if it would restore some megre level of trust in the system.

But, no.

What has changed? The boards of the banks? Gimme a break.

The worst thing is; I can see myself writing the same piece about the same system in 20 years time. Fine Gael won’t do anything beyond plain basic conservatism either. And that’s why we need the prism and process of constitutional reform, a voice of the public to give a direction to the politicians.

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