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DONAL HORGAN: World Class Mediocre?

Nothing, it seems, appeals more to the inflated sense of self-importance of Ireland’s political rulers than the idea of Ireland being ‘world-class’ or failing that ‘best in class’ in any number of areas.

Remember Enda Kenny’s vow in 2011 to make Ireland the ‘best small country in the world to do business’? A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then and there has been no shortage of ‘world-class’ vows touching on everything from medical care to education to housing.

In some respects, you can see where Kenny was coming from. Ireland in the 1990’s, for all of its faults, was a place where performance actually seemed to matter. Indeed, you could say that this was when the economic foundations of today’s Ireland were laid. Neither was it surprising that this was a country which punched well above its weight in everything from international football to the Eurovision Song Contest!

However, it would appear that those halcyon days are far removed from an overhyped, overpriced Ireland increasingly characterised by deteriorating public services. What distinguishes Ireland today from its previous incarnation is the inflated sense of hubris, bordering on the delusional, around how Ireland is now somehow a world class player in just about every area imaginable.

It’s fair to say that no political party owns modern Ireland like the present day Fine Gael does. In power for over a decade now, they have made modern Ireland the country that it now is. If they own the rhetoric and the hyperbole that goes with that then it’s fair to say they also need to own the reality of the overpriced and increasingly lawless Ireland that they have created.

Under Fine Gael’s political stewardship, there has been no shortage of ‘world-class’ vows but alas, delivery of little that could actually be described as world-class.

One of the best examples of this surely has to be the National Children’s Hospital, a project unveiled as – you guessed it – a world-class children’s hospital! Planning permission for the project was granted in 2016 which had a projected budget of €650m.

Building on a restricted site on the St. James’ Hospital campus, the budget quickly ballooned as construction got under way with the latest estimates now somewhere in the range of €2bn – and even that seems conservative at this stage. Clearly, working in such a congested site was never going to be easy or cheap to begin with. The fact that the then Minister for Health, Simon Harris, may have been more pre-occupied with doing laps of honour for his own role in the abortion referendum in 2018 when the project was in a critical phase may not have helped either.

The hapless Stephen Donnelly cannot be blamed entirely for the unfolding fiasco that is the NCH. He inherited an oval-shaped lump of concrete at the St. James’ site from his predecessor and now appears to have little alternative other than writing blank taxpayer cheques to finish the project. The closest the NCH looks like now getting to being recognised as a world-class project may well be that it will end up as a module on project management courses around the world – on how not to build a hospital.

It’s much the same story now in a raft of different areas in Ireland.  Public services are deteriorating, health services are crumbling and a housing crisis is going from bad to worse. In such a scenario, most governments would have the good sense not to try and crash under pressure systems by adding even more demand but……that is exactly what the present government is doing.

As is to be expected, this is usually by way of more grandiose announcements about yet another ‘world-class’ vow regarding how Ireland is going to provide own door accommodation to anyone from around the world including those who enter the country illegally.  It’s worth remembering that Fine Gael who have been running Justice for over a decade now have had full oversight of the shambles that is Ireland’s asylum and immigration system which is now only adding to the possibility of a system collapse in all public services for Irish people.

This summer has seen the opening up of yet another front in the ongoing saga of collapsing services. The removal of 35% of tourist accommodation in regional Ireland by the State, most of it in the budget and three star category, in order to house refugees and asylum seekers has made holidaying in Ireland unaffordable not just for foreign visitors but Irish people too.

Given the economic damage inflicted on local downstream businesses such as restaurants and pubs, this would count as an act of national sabotage in most countries. Not so in Ireland where, for its ruling political class, the tantalizing prize of being perceived as a ‘world-class’ humanitarian player on the international stage trumps any local considerations such as the sabotage of the Irish tourism industry.

The thing about the marvel that is the new liberal, all-inclusive Ireland is that when you look a little closer you see a country in which many public services are now approaching those of a third world country. This is now evident across a broad range of services and includes health, housing and even law and order.

The only thing that is world-class about a lot of things in Ireland these days is the virtue signalling and the self-delusions that go with that. Ireland and its people may still be world-class but today its political stewardship can only be described as world-class mediocre.


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