Written on: 6. 10. 2011 in the category: Featured news

Without a major cultural reform, we are programming certain failure into our future

I had to get from near Dalkey to the M50 the other day. I might as well have been trying to get from Dover to London in late 1940. South Dublin County apparently prides itself on its absence of signposts; and its roundabouts are a multi-exited triumph of nameless bedlam.

I remember writing about this, all of 20 years ago. Yet here we are, one entire Celtic Tiger later, with the beast having been conceived, gestated, reared, matured, murdered and now buried, and we are still apparently incapable of erecting a single continuity of signposts almost anywhere in the greater Dublin area.

Every party has been in government since then, apart from the Shinners, whose expertise in erecting signposts — “Snipers at Work” — is neither disputed nor desired. And yet we still haven’t managed to create what would be regarded anywhere else in Europe as one of the administrative basics of a modern state. If we fail to get the very conspicuous and the very necessary right, is it surprising that we consistently fail to master the inconspicuous?

Nonetheless, Senator Jimmy Harte managed to discover that one ‘unemployed’ family with four children is receiving nearly €90,000 a year in benefits from the tweely named Department of Social Protection. This DoSP dosh is tax free, remember. You’d need to earn a taxed salary of more than €200,000 to have that kind of money in your pocket. And the categories of payment are truly bizarre.

The father is claiming a disability allowance of €380, and one daughter is claiming a special needs allowance of €211, while another child is claiming €286 as a ‘guardian’s pension’, whatever that is. Perhaps because of all the disability in this household — what precisely happened there? The Battle of Balaklava? — the poor mother is also drawing a €380 ‘carer’s allowance’.

The most corrupting benefit of all, which both distorts the housing market and makes it almost impossible for even the willing to return to work, (which I rather doubt these fine people are) is the rent supplement, which in this case is €276.

The Minister for DoSP Joan Burton, in response to these astonishing revelations, declared that no one really knows what entire families are being given in welfare, because records only show the money going to individuals, not to households. Better still, she suspects that the above family might also be on the take from the HSE. But she isn’t sure, because the computer software of DoSP doesn’t talk to the computer software of HSE.

Clearly, just as we can’t erect signposts to communicate with motorists, we have a comparable problem with government departments. Yet we keep renaming them. And every time that happens, all the signs over all the government buildings, and all the stationery, have to be changed — at huge cost.

And meanwhile, the HSE remains the HSE: Haemorrhaging Spectacularly Everywhere. Just one look at the stats, and even Stalin would retire to a darkened cell in a monastery. Every single day of the year, some 1,100 HSE employees call in “sick”, which is HSEse for a hangover. It would be impossible to explain to a Chinese person that these animal-loving public servants are paid as much to stay between the sheets, petting their polecats or caressing their poor little pussies, as to go to work. The words necessary to explain such rewarded indolence simply do not exist in any known Chinese language.

An attempt to dock pay for such criminal malingering would, of course, invite the bearded wrath of the One True Government of this Republic — the public service unions. With the clinically insane Croke Park deal safely in their pockets, their power is now almost unassailable. Welfare payments and public-service salaries are the main prop to what little remains of the poor, broken retail sector. A Greek-style public-service strike would simply cause the few sorry survivors in the private economy to book a mass-slot in the crematorium, before it, too, goes out of business. The Government daren’t start such a conflict; therefore, it continues to subsidise its unelected masters, through the public service pay from which the union dues are taken, and which is, of course, all being borrowed from the unborn.

All of these apparently disconnected issues intersect around their point of origin: the moral vacuum wherein the public service and elected politicians meet. This was where the wickedly profligate and uncheckable welfare state was concocted, as a vast vote-buying strategy. This is where no county councillors ever insist that their area needs signposts, simply because the locals already know the roads: so why spend money erecting signs for outsiders? This is where you will find the origins of the vast and metastasizing HSE, whose secondary tumours are now eating through the masonry of the State. No patriotism reigns here. This is where the nation ends and self-interest begins.

But if we do not impose a moral order on this no-go area before the recovery fully gets under way, we shall never do so once growth resumes. Without a major cultural reform at the nexus where decision-making actually occurs, we are once again programming certain failure into our future.