A rampant sense of entitlement: The malign force driving inequality

IT might be as naive as asking why Iceland — population 330,000 — jailed so many bankers and we jailed so few to suggest that the tit-for-tat sense of entitlement so embedded in our society has become a driver of inequality, the rawest, ugliest expression of greed and the greatest impediment to reform. 

Despite that naivety surely it is time to discuss this malignant force before, if it has not already, fundamentally changes the character of this small Republic?

Examples are myriad. This week the Oireachtas PAC considers how well or otherwise third-level institutions use public resources. They will hear of top ups to salaries outside Department of Education policy. This practice became normalised and no longer provokes the usual but shabby “to-compete-with-the-private-sector” defence. The PAC may discuss public sector double-jobbing while a one-salary edict was in place. It might discuss hidden, unreported funding, self-aggrandising portraits and retirement packages but it is unlikely that it will look at golden handshakes in a way that reflects a study by the Association of Pension Trustees that shows how State employees’ pensions are valued by the Revenue Commissioners at considerably less for tax purposes than identical pensions in the private sector. Before it moves away from third-levels institutions PAC might even, finally, get a satisfactory explanation about how the €63m sale of a company midwifed at Waterford Institute of Technology was worth only €1.3m to the institution.

Academics are not by any means the only group susceptible. In recent weeks the St John of God organisation had to apologise because it had paid some managers more than €1.6m above public pay levels. That it is not the only Section 38 organisation to be so exposed — remember Rehab? — underlines how all pervasive the sense of entitlement is.

Earlier this week farmers used a combine harvester to block traffic on Dublin’s Kildare St because they are unhappy with the compensation offered — up to €5,000 each — because it rained on cereal crops last year. The idea of compensating farmers from the public purse for what the insurance industry might describe as an “act of God” is long established but it has not been extended to other sectors equally challenged by profit-wrecking weather. These packages may be cheering for the businesses we call farms but, in a country with 570,000 people on hospital waiting lists and a hard-to-fix housing crisis, they seem irrational bungs used to feed another sense-of-entitlement crocodile.

This sense is also behind many of the fantastic compensation cases that reach our courtrooms and even if there seems to be a new, welcome rigour in dealing with the wildest, most implausible claims the majesty of the law is hardly honoured by professionals who suspend all credibility and collude with what are often no more than the most brazen punts against the legal and insurance systems.

It may be naive to hope that this every-man-for-himself culture might change but it is certain that unless it is at least challenged this will become a far less happy, a far less admirable society. Or are we really that mean-spirited?


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