Cromwell's assessment of parliament resonates today

After 13 days of sitting, at a time of the gravest national crisis in generations, the Dáil adjourned at 9.40pm on Wednesday last, October 21st, and will not convene again until next Tuesday, November 3rd (having been absent for 10 weeks previously). The Finance Committee which is going through the Nama Bill did sit throughout Thursday and convened again yesterday but only 43 TDs were listed as having attended and only 24 of these (out of 166) contributed to the debate – a further five uttered a heckle, in most instances a single heckle.

The weekend newspapers reported, yet again, on extraordinary abuses by public representatives of public money. The estimates for public expenditure will become available shortly, or should become available shortly, and they will receive almost no attention from the Dáil before they are copper-fastened in a budget.

This, the most crucial budget in generations, will determine the shape of society for perhaps a generation by the infliction of deeper inequality and, thereby, deeper societal dysfunctionality: more mental health problems; more crime; more teenage pregnancies; many more people dying prematurely (over 5,000 people dying prematurely now because of the existing social inequalities); more obesity; more drug abuse; more infant deaths; a lower index of child welfare (just look at the evidence for this on, the website of the trust founded by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better ).

All this is done on the pretext that the country is broke or almost broke, whereas the country is rich, one of the world’s richest. It is only the public purse that is broke and the public purse is broke because the State refuses to replenish it from the vast resources of the private purse.

The Dáil won’t hold the Government to account for the social vandalism it is to perpetrate because the Dáil can’t hold the Government to account for anything, as the Government controls the Dáil. The Dáil won’t even hear the case for replenishing the public purse from the still overflowing private purse (for example: if Seán Dunne squandered €400 million on the Dublin 4 sites, that money did not go into the ether, it is in the pockets of the family of the late PV Doyle and in other well-upholstered pockets). The Dáil won’t hear any plausible alternative strategy to the pillage of public services and welfare the Government is preparing. For that is now our political culture: a quiet consensus that the purpose of society is to protect the riches of the rich, while rhetorical promises to relieve the misery of the relatively impoverished are made. And, yes, it is the relatively that matters.

There is little prospect of this changing, even though the financial, social and economic crisis might demand of us to address the political crisis as well. The parties of government don’t want to institute a political system that would hold it meaningfully accountable and the parties not in government don’t want it either for they foresee themselves being imminently in government.

Politics here is not about creating systems of accountability and democracy, nor about creating a just, fair and equal society. Politics is about office, the retention or the attainment of office and the perks, emoluments and social status that come with it. Maybe the social status above all – bolstered by the limousines, the Garda drivers, the helicopters, the government jet.

Oliver Cromwell is no heroic figure in Irish history, nor should he be. In the campaign he instituted on landing in Dublin on August 15th, 1649, to his departure from Youghal on May 26th, 1650, he was responsible for the massacre of around 7,000 people, the enslavement of 12,000 and the deportation of 50,000, plus the eviction and displacement of hundreds of thousands. But that speech of his to the Rump Parliament on April 20th, 1653, when it failed, in his view, to reform the political system, has a contemporary resonance: “Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

“Ye sordid prostitutes . . . are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation . . . depart immediately out of this place . . . You have sat here too long for the good you do. In the name of God, go!”