Breaking our culture of croneyism - Expensive early lessons for Taoiseach

Because of the week that’s in it, it seems a justifiable exercise to consider how those great managers of image, expectation, and their supporters — New Zealand’s All Blacks — have come to be all-conquering and all but unassailable, to see if their culture, their way of realising their ambitions offer any lessons for our new Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

The All Blacks have a huge work ethic; they built a culture of honest self-appraisal and act on negative conclusions.

They have learned how their unshakeable sense of community can be harnessed and, as an aside of course, used to cow opponents even before a ball is kicked.

This common purpose is expressed through the haka but occasionally the rest of the world is given a glimpse of how comprehensively the All Blacks prepare.

One such moment was when Murray Mexted, a former All Blacks captain-turned-commentator, spoke about preparing to manage the psychological ebb and flow of a game, about understanding that, for a period of every game, every team will be under the cosh.

Most of all, he spoke about storing away and, when they are needed, calling on the emotional resources needed to turn the tide, to reassert dominance.

Essentially, building the psychological resilience needed to sustain self-belief through a difficult period so the greater prize might be realised.

Because he is barely a week in office, it is far, far too soon to come to any worthwhile view of Mr Varadkar’s leadership, but it is also fair to suggest that two of his early decisions would not have been made by anyone who understood the All Blacks’ ebb-and-flow theory or anyone who understands that psychological security — or basic respect — depends on a commitment to a common purpose, which means always doing the right thing even if it is the hard thing to do.

It is hard to imagine Mr Varadkar’s demotion of Mary Mitchell O’Connor would have provoked the sugar-coating it did in an All Blacks’ setting.

The time-to-go decision would have been made, the person informed, the file closed. Brutal but adult. Culture protected, respect enhanced. Let’s move on.

By the same criteria, Máire Whelan would not have been appointed to the Court of Appeal. Though her appointment was initiated by his predecessor, Mr Varadkar could have intervened.

His political radar must have warned him that the relationships between the electorate and our judicial and police systems are so shot through that this job offer carried too high a cost in political capital.

There have been far too many strokes, too many you’ll-be-looked-after appointments. There have been, and are, too many scandals destroying the relationship between Government, the justice system, and society.

The engineering of Ms Whelan’s appointment, though described as by-the-book, adds to that sorry, democracy-weakening litany.

Of course, Mr Varadkar knew this and it is deeply disheartening that, in both instances, he chose a course that has undermined the optimism and goodwill his appointment provoked. He must develop a cold, All Black ruthlessness if he is to break the croneyism and stroke culture that makes our democracy seem so often pointless to so many citizens.


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