George Lee - Resignation challenges each of us

NOW that the short but tremendous excitement generated by Hurricane George begins to abate, it would probably be worthwhile to pick through the flotsam and jetsam to see if any good can come of the whole sorry, demeaning, revealing and angry affair.

George Lee enjoyed tremendous public support — four-to-one in an off-the-cuff RTÉ poll — for his decision to quit politics and Fine Gael, but he has been criticised by politicians. He has been vilified by others.

He has been told that he lacked bottle and that he has betrayed his constituents. He has been told that he is petulant and ill-suited to the rough and tumble of politics. And that was just his former party colleagues.

However, he can take some comfort in the fact that these views are hardly impartial and are expressed by those who, despite almost yearly promises of Oireachtas reform, sustain and are sustained by a system that has failed us all. A system that is sadly discredited and far more disconnected from society than is wise or even healthy.

Those criticisms were expressed by those who, during the furore surrounding the resignation, were accurately but chillingly described as “institutionalised”. In lots of ways they are the least appropriate people to comment on Lee’s decision; they, after all, may not even see the wood from the trees. Like so many of us, in our great human weaknesses, they may be the very last people to see themselves as others see them.

The response of political commentators and analysts, as always, was mixed.

The more humane combined surprise, disappointment and the criticism that Lee was petulant and naive. They played the ball, not the man.

Some commentary was so pointed and scathing that it must be assumed that it was as much about settling old scores as it was about the issues at hand. This added to the shabbiness of the whole affair.

Enda Kenny responded with his usual dignity and calm. Despite expressing great regret, he failed to convince that there are not serious problems in the way we conduct politics, not just Fine Gael politics.

If George Lee is susceptible to charges of naivety, so too are Mr Kenny and his inner circle. If you introduce a peacock into a flock of Rhode Island Reds then precautions must be taken or, as the last 48 hours have shown, there will be casualties.

Government politicians have repeatedly tried to convince us that our economic crisis has foreign roots. You can accept that nonsense if you will but the stagnation and apathy undermining the Irish political process is entirely homegrown. The solution must be too.

It should concern us all that someone like George Lee, for all his quirks, impatience and bluster, should so quickly decide that the system cannot adapt to the needs of the day.

George Lee’s frustration with politics is shared by far more people than can be easily identified. To deny this is dangerously delusional. Already those who don’t bother to vote — one-in-three — have passed judgment on the system. It would be a mistake to dismiss Lee’s resignation as vanity, as an act of a spurned idealist. Like it or not, it is a challenge to our political system, its smugness and insularity.

The power brokers who run our two main political parties have repeatedly shown that they are uninterested in real reform. They are happy with the way things are. George Lee, despite all his questionable judgments, rejected this self-serving consensus.

Why should we accept it?


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