The cost of inertia; Our refusal to change is destructive

EVERY nation embraces and promotes security-blanket fictions about itself. Creating and sustaining the right image, the winning impression is as important in today’s never-ending struggle to attract foreign investment — jobs and some taxes — as divisions of well-mounted cavalry were when a different kind of imperialism prevailed.

We enthusiastically promote the idea that Ireland is a modern, can-do European nation. We celebrate the kind of things that should define us as modern — things like surfing, an admirable if limited food culture, and a world-leading bloodstock industry. That so many of today’s tech giants have a presence here may have more to do with our EU membership and tax rates than anything intrinsically Irish, but we happily regard their arrival as almost a personal endorsement.

We argue that we punch above our weight in the arts — four Nobel laureates since 1923 must mean something even if three of those writers came from a culture once generally excoriated. That we have won the Eurovision song contest a record seven times must mean something too. There are as many ways to celebrate Ireland as there are shades of green but any deviation from this unquestioning positivity is, as the naysayers discovered, regarded as sedition. Passivity in the face of relentless, well-intentioned patriotic positivity is, like the unquestioned veneration of the Great Leader in a Stalinist backwater, expected and generally observed. Some people may regard it as treasonable to question this but already this week there have been at least three indications that some introspection, of the honest variety, might be wise. None of these stories is an earth-shattering exposé but rather each is a confirmation that despite our determination to portray Ireland as a bright, shiny modern place, it remains a deeply conservative society where anyone challenging the status quo needs the patience of Job — and even then defeat is more likely than victory.

Speaking about school transport, Skills Minister John Halligan admitted he was powerless to resolve some difficult issues this year. “You hold your head in your hands sometimes as a minister. You get in there and you find it’s so difficult to change things,” he conceded. That deep frustration was echoed by Prof Joseph Harbison, the outgoing head of the national stroke programme, when he strongly criticised HSE inertia. In a scathing review of how the programme he has led since 2010 was implemented, he is strongly critical of HSE obduracy. He describes a kind of local autonomy that borders on institutionalised anarchy. Our police force has, sadly, come to epitomise resistance to change to the detriment of everyone. Another story showed that the Catholic Church cannot sustain itself from within so Romanian priests are being recruited to fill parish vacancies. Despite that, and despite Government policy, more than 90% of our national schools remain under the patronage of the Catholic Church.

We pay a very heavy price for our reluctance to even consider change — and changing that attitude would be a great step forward for this continually underperforming society.


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