Let’s not waste yet another crisis

One of the clutching-at-straws lines we used in the early stages of our economic collapse was that the calamity was too good a crisis to waste; the hope being that the failure was so great that the response, the unavoidable reform, would be on an equally dramatic scale.

 That revolution in our public life has not come about and maybe we should ask ourselves why not. And preferably before we are confronted with the next, almost inevitable, catastrophe.

Maybe we should ask why such a very close brush with the collapse of this Republic — the 2008 banks’ implosion and the disastrous guarantee; the costly decision by international lenders that this tottering State was not a good bet and the eurozone crisis of 2010-2012 — all came and went without a proportionate reaction.

This is dumbfounding as such a reaction, one that might help prevent a recurrence of the social division and reduction in living standards that have had an impact in all communities, seems utterly rational and justified. Not to react dramatically seems bizarre, pathetic and weak minded.

Nearly every foible, nearly every administrative weakness and political vanity, nearly every public fantasy and denial that brought us to the collapse of 2008 is evident to a greater or lesser degree in the far less important Irish Water tragedy.

Maybe the whole sorry affair presents another opportunity for the perfect case study into how we do things. The results might lead to a far better, more transparent, less hysterical way of doing things.

Is it reckless, or even pointless, to imagine that the embarrassing, shaming shambles, from Phil Hogan’s dreadful hubris, the stampede of legislation through the Dáil, the fog around detail, the musical chairs on costs, the immoral establishment costs, the shabby deals on retaining redundant staff, the bonuses’ affront, the hysterical and sometimes sinister response of opponents to water charges, might be enough to finally convince us and our politicians that this way of doing business is little more than an offensive, destructive charade? Could Irish Water actually become the catalyst for the kind of reform that the 2008 collapse should have provoked?

Yesterday’s protests in Cork, where 200 or so people greeted Taoiseach Enda Kenny, suggest that Irish Water II, an entity with greatly reduced income and hence ambition, has taken the wind out of the protesters’ sails. If that is the case then another crisis has been wasted and we’ll probably plod along into the future tripping ourselves up every now and again. That seems foolish and needless.

It may be naive, in the context of the goldfish bowl of Irish political life at least, to suggest that an all-party Oireachtas committee, and maybe a few independent guests, might objectively review the episode and produce a report that would suggest how entirely appropriate public projects like Irish Water might be better realised. This might be a far more practical way of marking The Centenary than marching bands and fine speeches — and it might even lead to the positive change so badly needed on so many levels.

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