Elected to lead, not to bargain - The authority to govern

IT IS entirely natural that our modern, democratic, multi-cultural world is so suspicious of authoritarian governments that they are no longer tolerated. Unfettered authoritarianism, allied with mania, imagined exceptionalism, and deep, irrational hatreds so ravaged the last century that every society that can rejects the idea of entrusting their government with unlimited power.

Despite this, we hope that our governments have the courage and tenacity to lead, to make hard decisions, to confront self-serving sectors of society, and to insist that State services are provided in a competent, reliable, and value-for-money way. Modern governments are elected to lead, to reform, to develop, and to protect and insulate the vulnerble from an often cruel world. In such an unequal world, we can only hope that governments are conscious of the need to challenge domestic and international inequity and the circumstances that create it. Electing a government must be an exercise in optimism. If it is not, what is the point? Use whatever verb you wish, it would be too dispiriting to conclude that modern governments do not have the authority needed to effect real and positive change but there are too many examples that suggest they do not.

The great world collapse of 2007 was as much a challenge to democracy as it was an economic catastrophe and it is worrying that the rules needed to prevent a recurrence, and the transnational solidarity epitomised by co-operation on taxation, have yet to be finalised. In our own country, we have listened as minister after minister, and very often Taoiseach Enda Kenny too, pleaded with banks to reduce variable rate mortgages, but to no avail. The banks were also asked to be more flexible with mortgage holders struggling to maintain repayments but no, legislation to rebalance negotiations around impaired mortgages is deemed necessary.

Yesterday, Health Minister Leo Varadkar said he was ashamed of how patients were mistreated at Portlaiose hospital. He expressed equal discomfort around baby deaths in Cavan and the abuse of clients in residential centres for the intellectually challenged. Yet, despite the fact that he will be judged on the organisation’s perfomenace, he argues that he cannot dismiss anyone from the HSE. Earlier this week, the European Commission pointed out that we spend more than most European countries on healthcare but barely have average outcomes. The EC also washed their hands of the problem of exorbitant legal fees in this country suggesting that if we don’t have the gumption to confront the issue then we can endure the consequences. A minority of garda officers felt able to cancel penalty points despite an expresssed instruction from the Garda Commissioner not ot do so. They are still in uniform.There are sadly many more dispiriting examples of what happens under light-touch authority.

These situations exist because Government seems to think it was elected to bargain rather than lead. It would be pleasantly surprised at the level of support it would get if it decided that it has danced around the maypole for long enough and asserted the authority secured at the last election.


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