Rebuilding Ireland - A new set of standards is required

THE ink is barely dry on our Faustian pact with Europe but one of the cornerstones in the Government’s four-year programme has been dramatically revised.

The frequency with which Government projections transpire to be wildly optimistic is unnervingly regular. This failure of administration has become a characteristic of the economic crisis washing over us all though it is a symptom of something far more destructive.

It is very difficult to have confidence in the bureaucracy that seems unable to support Government with reliable, accurate enough predictions. That Government should accept as unchangeable this culture of failure is even more discouraging.

When the Government published its four-year plan just last week it anticipated our real GDP would grow by 1.75% next year after this year’s fall of 2%. Yesterday the European Commission poured cold water on that moderate ambition. They predicted growth of 0.9% in Ireland and 1.5% across the rest of Europe.

In the context of bailout interest rates above 5% this is a chastening revision and may even extend our time in the modern purgatory we have built for ourselves — the age of austerity.

Unreliable economic forecasting is just another symptom of the a range of failures that cost us our sovereignty and economic independence. Take a few examples from a long, long list. Every year we waste €500 million because our water pipes leak. In some instances local authorities lose half of the water they process because we did not renew infrastructure when we should have. Just last week a Department of Education report, based on random inspections, was very critical of teaching standards in many schools. Inspectors concluded that one-in-four teachers had not prepared properly for class. It found that one-in-three teachers’ assessment of pupils was unsatisfactory. Furthermore, it found that over 14% of English or maths lessons were not up to scratch. How can this be?

These are just unacceptable inefficiencies but there are so many examples of self-serving, immoral doublethink as well that we must ask ourselves if we are prepared to insist on the standards and disciplines that might have prevented us from reaching this sorry point or, more importantly, reaching it again.

The most pathetic example of this doublethink was the rejection by Fianna Fáil’s junior minister Martin Mansergh of a suggestion that politicians’ pay should be cut again. Mr Mansergh, showing the kind of understanding of the public mood that should consign his party to oblivion after the election, rejected the argument saying politicians’ terms were linked to civil servants and therefore protected by the Croke Park deal.

At this low point we must start to rebuild much more than an economy and to do that we need to be more honest with ourselves than we seem to find easy or natural. Maybe if at this chastening moment of ignominy and defeat we accepted that unless we do we will repeat all of the mistakes of the last decade at the very first opportunity.

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Saturday, March 6, 2021

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