Several weeks ago, I was speaking to a former professor of mine and we touched upon the current inability of the Irish government to pass legislation due to the non-existence of a valid Seanad. This was around the time the Irish newspapers started speculating over whether Trump would hand over power peacefully should he lose come November 3rd. He (my professor, not Donald Trump) quipped to me that it was ironic that the Irish establishment were happy to attack US democracy over hypothetical situations of their own imagination whilst Irish democracy was – and still is – in the middle of a constitutional crisis over who has the power to do what. If the US was without a government for such a prolonged period, the Irish media would have a field day – why then is the constitutional crisis on our shores barely registering as a concern in their coverage?
Over 120 days since the election, we are barely closer to a government than we were 40, 50, 100 days ago. Ministers rejected by the people at the ballot box continue to man the wheels of power. The Dáil and its powers of oversight have been neutered. The Seanad is devoid of requisite nominees – ergo it is illegitimate. Simon Harris talks and acts like he is running the show. The Gardaí have been given additional powers – but application of these powers is an issue. Legislation passed by the Dáil and signed into law has a questionable legal basis (according to jurist and legislator alike) – but the only people challenging it are… let’s say attention seekers – to put it politely. A Doctor resigned from the Irish Medical Council as he stated the government simply didn’t care for the fate of the elderly, and subsequently worked to cover it up.
In the wake of George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of police officers, thousands of Irish people have taken to the streets – disregarded social distancing guidelines, and the sacrifices and unity that have typified our people’s (not our government’s) response to Covid-19. Not to minimise the police brutality that caused Mr Floyd’s murder or the desire for justice burning within the African-American community, but what does it say about us that we will protest more over an injustice over the sea than injustices at home. Did I miss the thousands packing the streets demanding an investigation into the mismanagement of our nursing homes which has caused the deaths of thousands? Surely, I must’ve slept through the Rally for Democracy which drew the largest crowds since the Pope packed out the Phoenix Park?
So thousands packed together like cattle making a mockery of every sacrifice our people have endured, to protest actions in another country – but couldn’t be so concerned for what is happening here? People have had to “Zoom” into funerals of loved ones because no more than 10 can attend a funeral under Simon Harris’s regulations. Loved ones have been precluded from so much as glimpsing their loved ones in nursing homes for months, and even been denied the chance to say goodbye. Nurses and doctors, and frontline workers have put their lives on the line to fight Covid-19. We as a people have risen to the call to fight Covid-19, and made some of the hardest sacrifices for the good of the country. These protests are a slap in the face to the deceased and everyone who sacrificed to fight this pandemic.
Yet an Taoiseach has balked at the prospect of getting off the fence and actually condemning the flagrant breaches of social distancing and instead left it to Tony Holohan to speak out on. A pub owner who can’t afford to stay closed any longer was lambasted for trying to reopen. Those who had to bury loved ones, subjected to the painful task of choosing the 10 to bury their loves ones. Yet because Covid-19 apparently won’t infect a righteous march like BLM, all social distancing and government condemnation is unwarranted. Ultimately, it seems an Taoiseach is more interested in this instance of being on the right side of those who will never vote for him than safeguarding the public’s well-being.
We adjudge the UK and the US as if from a mantle looking down upon them, and boast of our superiority in our approach. How are we any better? We are without an elected government since February, have a worse per capita death rate than the US and the UK arising from Covid-19, and we have persisted to prop up the same political cartel that existed since the foundation of the State then wonder why nothing has changed…
During the Brexit negotiations, we lambasted the Brits for their supposed idiocy – whilst we saw homeless people dying in doorways in our capital, saw our healthcare sector in its worst ever state, and have a housing a market that offers the punishing binary of crippling rent or life on the streets.
Throughout the Trump administration’s first term, we have haughtily mocked our neighbours from across the water and derided their politics and system of governance. Yet we have a system with a figurehead president, a Seanad with minimal powers and which is made up of retiring politicians or one’s who have just lost their seats and can’t let go of the good life just yet, and a government who when the going gets tough seem more content to cede control to the EU to handle the problem.
The point I am striving for here is not that their politics is better than ours. Rather, my point is that we have so many of our own issues and injustices here at home – yet we will dedicate far more energy to critiquing our neighbours and making their problems our own, than have the big conversations here at home. Successive governments in this country have benefited from being neither Britain or America, sparing them the coverage and scrutiny these nations warrant.
I am not asking for us to bury our heads in the sands and ignore the goings on in the outside world, nor to deify the British and American systems of government. On the contrary, I ask that the same level of scrutiny and passion we bring to bear on their systems of governance and issues – we bring at least the same level to bear on our own affairs. Amidst a constitutional crisis, our democracy demands the utmost diligence, attention and scrutiny from her citizens – can we say that that is what we have given her?