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Asteroid Strikes the James

By February 6, 2019Blog

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.

 RTE News April 28th, 2016

The dramatic resetting of values in Ireland, after the failure of banks and the destruction of Irish family prosperity, hasn’t received much academic study, but it is accurate to say that Ireland continues to change with a quiet strength and resolve that appears lost on an establishment wedded to reimposing the old values. This is evident from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s spinning around the fiscal crater at National Children’s Hospital site.

Plainly, Irish values have changed, this is 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, veganism and out into the physical world 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 and in the eye of it is Irish Eve, most especially Moms. The new stresses are over food content, plastic wrapping, nutrition, family diet, children’s mental health, weight, obesity, climate.

It’s no longer cool to admit to being hungover, maxing credit cards or getting shit-faced on a Friday. The new currency is frugality. Offers are checked and rechecked on-line, restaurants, gastro-pubs, craft beers, holidays, coupons. Value is hunted down, credit is respected, budgets are redrawn.

In the private sector, up-skilling and education is flourishing, startups 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, and get back up. Redemption is encouraged, failure forgiven and the fallen clapped on. The comeback is the new story in town. It is a changing Ireland. But not everywhere is there a willingness.

Opposing this new-found spirit of resourcefulness is a Public Administration 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, where youthful energy and ambition is lobotomized, 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 a chronic crisis 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 is interconnected and interdependent.  Benchmarking was a master stroke, 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 with Brexit March 29th 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 administration. It is forbidden.  The financial crisis was the last opportunity to reset how Ireland is 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 zeros on balance sheets counted most, where how you made money didn’t matter as much as the making of it, where connections to power and easy credit lines dictated the wealth multiplier. 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, that takes to the streets to voice concerns, that signs petitions on social media, that demands higher standards of service and that isn’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, that public administration must play by the same rules as everyone else? We’ve been left aghast by systemic Garda misconduct, by widespread and malicious targeting of a truthful Garda and his family, by chronic housing shortages, by unaffordable rents, by homelessness, by chaotic access to hospitals and now by €4 million per hospital bed 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

6th February 2019

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The Pivot Eddie Hobbs