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Leo’s echoes of Michael Noonan and Brigid McCole

Governments often make mistakes. Indeed, if Government did not make mistakes, then people like me would go out of business very quickly – political incompetence might well be terrible news for you, dear reader, but for those of us who need things to write about, political incompetence is a godsend.

Which is why I, for one, will struggle to pass the Fine Gael candidates on my ballot paper, next time out.

Jokes aside, political incompetence does, sometimes, work in the favour of the public. Think back to that time, for example, when Ireland accidentally legalised all recreational drugs for 24 hours. A day so great that, I must confess, I hardly remember it at all.

And then there is the nursing home charges scandal, and the Taoiseach’s defence to it. Which is no laughing matter:

The Taoiseach said the strategy was to defend the cases relating to private nursing homes on several grounds, in particular that medical card holders did not have an entitlement to free private nursing home care.

It was never the policy of the Government nor the intention of the Oireachtas to create such an entitlement,” he said. “Even today, people with medical cards for one reason or another, either choose or are forced to avail of private health care and social care, they don’t get a refund, not even now.

The entitlement to have your nursing home fees paid, you see, was created by accident. The Government, according to the Taoiseach, never intended to pass the law that it actually passed. Sheer, unadulterated, bone-headed stupidity, on behalf of some civil servant somewhere, seems to have created a situation where nursing home patients were given a legal entitlement to have their fees paid.

And because the decision was an act of Government incompetence, speaketh Leo, the Government’s much (and rightly) maligned legal strategy of frustrating the demands of those with a fair legal entitlement to have their fees returned was…. Justified. A “legitimate legal strategy”, he says:

This was a sound policy approach and a legitimate legal strategy by the Government at the time and previous Governments and Governments since.

What was that legal strategy?

First, not to inform people of their legal entitlements. In other words, to cover up the state’s mistake.

Second, to drag many claims out – even in cases where the state knew it was certain to lose – for as long as possible (and in the Irish Courts, that is a very long time). The unspoken implication being that as these claimants are old, well, nature might helpfully intervene to win the case for the state.

Third, to apparently tell lots of people in Government about this strategy, but have them all experience a kind of collective amnesia about ever having been informed. Perhaps it’s nursing home time for them, at this rate.

Strip it all away, and what are you left with? A moral vacuum, as Sir Humphrey might say. A state that privately conspired not to pay people money to which they were – by accident or design – legally entitled.

This is, we are endlessly told, a compassionate society. A new Ireland. The caring, cuddly, rainbow country.

But stories like this one reveal the truth of it: Where the state’s interests collide with the interests of the very people who are its foundation, utter ruthlessness will still be deployed, where necessary. Rather than admit an honest mistake, the state will instead try to cover it up, and persecute those who are advancing perfectly legitimate claims against it.

This is the Irish State: Heads we win, Tails you lose. And it is an attitude and approach that has not changed in half a century. For all the talk of a more compassionate society, and all the removal of church power, and sexual liberation, the one institution in Ireland which has never changed a whit is the Irish State. It remains entirely steeped in a siege mentality where its own people are the slavering hordes just outside the walls, who must be controlled, battered down, and kept at bay. Its mistakes must be covered up, its injustices buried, and its victims frustrated.

I cannot be the only one, this week, who thinks of Brigid McCole: A woman who was infected with Hepatitis through, again, sheer state incompetence. And whose case, once again at the hands of a Fine Gael Minister, was treated in a manner that could only be described as astoundingly cruel. She ultimately died, without justice. Just as some in the State hoped that she might. And then, as now, she was frustrated by a legal system that often seems to work for the state, rather than independently of it.

In the aftermath of that scandal, we got the usual platitudes about change, and apologies, and how things might be done differently in the future. They were all, as this story proves, bullshit.

The Irish State is not your friend. We must live with it. But it is a contemptible institution, and, as Leo Varadkar’s astounding attempts at defence yesterday prove, it seems to corrupt the very souls of everybody who comes into contact with it.

He should be mortified at advancing such a defence. But he will not be – because like almost every Irish politician since time began, he sees his job as to defend the state against you, not you, against the state.

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