POLITICS, said George Orwell, is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia – a description with which we agree.
And, while it might be tempting to ascribe some or all of those human failings to the chancers currently ruling the roost in Leinster House, we won’t. We have no desire to end up in the Four Courts.
Suffice to say that we no longer expect to get the truth from our leaders. This is because both government and opposition share a commonality of political values whose core element is that of telling porkies – the more outlandish the more convincing. Naïve people may argue that adherence to absolute truth, to facts, accuracy and honesty, is at the heart of political morality, but as far as our buckos are concerned, such a classification belongs to a no-go area.
We get ‘versions’ of the truth that are designed to manipulate attitudes to political decisions, or to win votes (remember Ruairi Quinn’s gigantic whoppers on Third Level Education?) We get the perversion of facts, ambiguous language and cock and bull promises. Question is: for how much longer can the public tolerate politicians who desecrate the basic moral principles that most of the population lives by?
Are our politicos nothing but out-and-out tricksters, perjurers, cheaters and knaves? Yes, but for practical reasons we choose to see them as storytellers who use half-lies or half-truths to depict reality; otherwise the political structure would collapse.
Indeed, telling a mixture of half-truths and half-lies appears to be more conducive to successful politics than trying to establish political objectives based on absolute truth. In some respects we prefer villains rather than paragons of virtue – think of the fascination people had with Charles Haughey and remember what happened recently to Alan Shatter who claimed to have a monopoly on truth: he lost his ministerial job and is now yesterday’s man!
So, when Alan Kelly – that rather limited politico responsible for trying to introduce pay-by-weight refuse charges – said he did not anticipate price hikes, was he telling the truth, a half-truth, a half-lie? Or was he just bonkers?
Interestingly, Housing Minister Simon Coveney, a former comrade in government, did not eviscerate Kelly for the shambles he made of the pay-by-weight system even though Kelly was undoubtedly liberal with the truth in his comments on price increases.
Interesting too that, after the crap hit the fan, all politicians drew a discreet veil over Kelly’s glaring incompetence. This was an example of the commonality of political values in action because he was also a member of a club whose number one rule is ‘let those without sin cast the first stone.’
The ease with which a single, inept politico triggered the refuse debacle can be linked to the fall-out from Fine Gael’s abolition of 80 town councils. At the time, not one of the 678 scrapped councillors saw fit to defend local government.
Was their former allegiance to local democracy a half lie, or a half-truth? Or did the handsome redundancy money corrode their principles?
Not too long ago local authorities had a legal responsibility to deal with waste disposal in their jurisdictions – a responsibility that Fine Gael did away with. Was it a half-lie or a half-truth when FG decided it was in the nation’s interest to surrender that function to blood-sucking private interests?
Former Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin regrets his support for abolition and he wants the council in his own town, Wexford, to be restored. Having taken ‘his eye off the ball,’ he now admits that local representation should have come first. He said he was doing other things at the time, such as ‘preventing the economy from sinking.’ (Oh yeah!!)
So, into what category can Howlin’s farrago of nonsense be pigeonholed? Truth, lies, or the obvious one: pure bonkers?
And then there were the frank observation from new Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl, who seemed to acknowledge the dangers of porkie spinning in the Dáil and of bamboozling the public.
This is what he said in a recent interview: ‘We have a situation where the faith between the public and politicians is broken. We have a problem. We need to rehabilitate ourselves and the system in the eyes of the public and that’s something I’d be very committed to doing.’
A fair comment, and a sort of implicit recognition that lying destroys the citizen’s trust in government, that lying leads to constituents detesting their leaders and that lying fractures a government and divides it into fundamentally dissimilar components.
The manic composition of Kenny’s FG-Independent coalition is an example of what happens when lies form the basis of political promises and expectations.
Sadly, Ó Fearghaíl’s idea of constructive reform is to have ‘Joe Citizen sitting in his or her living room, looking at Oireachtas TV, or reading about politics in the Indo, (cripes, the Indo!), and saying: ‘You know they (the politicians) are actually doing a good job.’
Does he think we’re dumbbells, so deficient in judgement that we’d swallow a theory of politics that’s weirdly based on a notion that politicians are really all-right people who will win our admiration sometime in the future?
Those of us who lived through Bishop Lucey’s Penny Catechism will remember that a lie is always sinful and nothing can excuse it. Lying is a betrayal of trust. Yet, people foolishly continue to trust their politicians in the expectation that a miracle will happen and they will be truthful to their constituents.
So let’s bring Bishop Lucey up to speed: from a moral point of view deceiving others certainly is wrong, but it’s not wrong when the most successful practitioners of deception are the representatives of government and that, having perfected the art of lying, they then go on to convince one another that they’re telling the truth!
Truth and honesty
As Ceann Comhairle and conscience of the Dáil, the task for Ó Fearghaíl is staring him in the face. Get our parliamentary numbskulls to accept this fundamental principle of political life: as night follows day, policies will be rejected if the constituents no longer trust their politicos. It’s a reality verifiable from experience and observation, as Kelly, Kenny and Coveney are beginning to discover as a result of the refuse fiasco.
People still care about truth and honesty – qualities the politicos are losing hand over fist.
As our man in Dinty’s said, there’s a very simple principle at stake: the worst thing about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth. When that realisation sinks in, as it has among huge swathes of the voting public, then the only conclusion to come to is that our democracy is in a very precarious situation.