Trying to prevent an election - A collective failure that was avoidable

In our least attractive national game — kicking the can down the road — there are strategies to buy time so hard decisions might be long-fingered.

In that grand opera of self-delusion, there are many ways to confound reforms that should have been introduced if not in the old gods’ time then certainly in the old governments’ time.

A commission of inquiry is, for those whose resistance to modernisation is under review, the gold standard.

This was underlined just last week when acting Garda Commissioner Dónall Ó Cualáin refused to answer questions at an Oireachtas committee hearing because he argued, the issues that provoked the PAC’s interest fell under the Charleton inquiry remit and, ipso facto, were off limits to mere parliamentarians.

This argument has been used so often that it hardly needs to be celebrated in the official training manual — it is absorbed as if by osmosis.

The establishment of an inquiry may be the optimal result for those fending off novel intrusions of accountability or performance appraisal but the commissioning of a report comes a close second.

This option offers endless prevarication even if a report into how an arm of the state works can turn out to be the hollowest of hollow gestures.

Often, the commissioning government is gone before it is published so it loses traction. Another volume of positive proposals joins that great Bodleian of deflection dressed as promise in some steady-as-we-go fiefdom we imagine is a public service department.

The usual response to judgments like these is to say they are angry and overly emotional but inaccurate. Unfortunately, as political leaders struggle to avert a dangerous election, the all-too-familiar evidence is to the contrary.

Would Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin have reached this stand-off if the 2014 Toland Report had been adopted with the belief and force our dysfunctional police force and Department of Justice demand?

Had Enda Kenny done what he should have done and confronted the “closed secretive and silo driven culture” the “significant leadership and management problems,” or even the “ineffective management processes” then we might not be careering towards an election that is not only unwanted but one that may exacerbate the fragmentation undermining so many of today’s weakened democracies.

Those are just three of issues raised by Toland and that report is just one of many published since Enda Kenny became Taoiseach in March 2011.

However, it would be unfair to focus on him for ignoring reports that might have remade society.

Those dismissals are the default response of all governments and have real consequences. Had the 1973 Kenny Report on the price of building land shaped policy as it should have had, we might not have a housing crisis today.

What a pity it is that the opposition parties — and the situation would be the same were Fine Gael in Fianna Fáil’s shoes — that the high principle driving today’s crisis was not focused on having the Toland report and many more like it implemented.

That idea, however, would open a real Pandora’s Box and highlight so many of the conventions and relationships that stymie progress in this kick-the-can society.



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