Considering how many people have claimed some form of compo, it is hard not to feel a degree of sympathy towards Maria Bailey — she is perhaps bewildered as to why she has been singled out for special attention. The decisive factors are probably her status not only as a public representative, but of a party supposed to be getting tough on compo culture. It’s an unfortunate context in which to be making a claim.
It also comes at a time when Ireland may finally be waking up to the fact that compo culture is no private matter. It touches all of us: Driving up premiums, strangling community life, closing small businesses, even restricting childhood as children are barely permitted to rough-and-tumble in schools or parks for fear of litigation. We see an unprecedented number of judges — perhaps mindful of which way the wind is blowing — dismissing claims; and even at times suggesting charges be brought against those suspected of making false claims. One might ask why all this took so long or why Ms Bailey’s case had to be Ireland’s watershed moment. It’s hard not to conclude it suited some sectors, such as the legal profession, as — despite the efforts of the PIAB — it has provided a steady source of work and income but at what cost to society at large?
The effects are not merely material — compo culture drives deep into the very psyche of society, debilitating it and fostering a dependency mentality. The denial of personal responsibility is at the core of compo culture. It infantilises people, turning them into minors with no personal responsibility or common sense, making the entire adult world around them responsible for them. And this effect is not limited to the individuals making claims, but spreads through the whole of society as a philosophy of life. One cannot complain about the “interfering nanny state” and over-regulation if one is willing to forego adult responsibility for some financial reward. On top of the monetary loss to society as a whole, the other net result is less personal freedom for everyone, as freedom can only be allowed to those who can show they are able to make responsible use of it.
Hardly surprising and very symbolic then that we end up with a society where elected public representatives require adult supervision while using swings. How far we have fallen from the vision of those brave men and women who — as adults took the ultimate responsibility for their own destiny and literally put their lives and personal welfare on the line to establish this State exactly 100 years ago this year. We’re not standing, so much as falling off and tripping over, the shoulders of giants.
In a sense, the conversation is not really about Ms Bailey, but what kind of society we have become and how it was allowed to happen.