Fianna Fáil mutiny and the Political Dysfunctionals
Joe Higgins caught the mood of despondency within the government in his remarks in the Dáil on Tuesday 27 June. He referred to headlines in that morning's newspapers about the negligible tax being paid by the wealthiest in society, and the revelation that we have one of the worst health services in Europe. He said: "The government has wasted the fruits of the boom. This is the key issue. It slashes taxes on the super-rich, but social and educational infrastructure in areas of booming population increases is stunningly absent. Children with disabilities, for example, are still denied occupational and speech therapy.
"The Taoiseach has perhaps one year left in government. What hope is there now of a resolution in any of these critical areas? What hope is there for a focus on the critical problems in the areas of health and infrastructure, in particular, when the past four weeks have shown that this government has a sense of direction that lies somewhere between Wanderly Wagon and the ancient tribes of Israel wandering in the desert, but with no Moses and no burning bush?
"The Taoiseach faces a mutiny on the Fianna Fáil ship. When the normally mild-mannered Deputy Johnny Brady begins to exude a whiff of political sulphur, one knows there is trouble. Deputies McGuinness and Andrews are beginning to adopt the confident air of a Fletcher Christian. Like the ill-fated Captain Bligh, whose ill temper he certainly displayed last week, the Taoiseach might find himself adrift.
"As for his partners in government, the political dysfunctionals – not our description but that of their friends, the party trustees – the digging match between the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Tánaiste would do justice to two junior GAA teams down the country who have been at each other's throats for years trying to stave off relegation. It is a good job the two casualties were only bruised egos; imagine if the two of them finished up in an Accident and Emergency unit with only one trolley available. The Taoiseach would need more than one of Deputy Kenny's wet rooms to cope with that situation. Is it any wonder Deputy (Liz) O'Donnell has a look of post-traumatic stress about her today and that the Minister of State, Deputy (Tom) Parlon, does not know whether to be happy or sad, such is the disarray? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, meanwhile, has taken to doing police duty in City Hall, policing everywhere but the streets of Dublin and elsewhere.
"The Taoiseach has one year in which to make changes. Will he indicate three steps he will take in the interests of working-class people to resolve the critical issues to which I referred, particularly in the areas of health and infrastructural deficits"?
Bertie Ahern replied, claiming the numbers in consistent poverty had declined from 250,000 to 65,000; that he and Mary Harney will work "diligently" to resolve problems in the 14 or 15 hospitals out of a total of 35, where problems remain; that there is a commitment to provide 15,000 social and affordable houses; that disadvantage in education has been targeted with the provision of additional teachers.
The reality however is that there is massive inequality here, as represented in the huge disparity in mortality rates between those in the lower occupational classes and those in the higher occupational classes. Nowhere near sufficient social houses are being built. Educational disadvantage remains a major issue. Chaos and inequity in the health service prevails.
We have squandered many of the fruits of the economic boom. Thousands have become multi-millionaires while social disadvantage remains neglected. The TDs of the government parties know they are in for an electoral pasting within a year, hence the nervousness on the Fianna Fáil back benches and the nervous breakdown in the PDs. It would be kind to have them put out of their misery sooner rather than later.