Lessons from the 1950s?

The institutional innovations over the deep crisis of the 1950s gave birth to the modern Irish economy. I analysed the process in this article  in the Irish Independent last week.  Brendan Keenan re edited it slightly to highlight his interpretation of what I was saying. One of the fascinating things about writing anything is how it takes on a life of its own in readers’ minds.   (“And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us”).  Edna Longley once destroyed the meaning of something I had written by aggressive editing; fortunately no such problems arise with Brendan.  I wrote a similar piece for historyhub.ie, a new site developed by a group of young historians.  Though I disagree with much of what Bryce Evans has to say on Lemass, I found his interpretation of what I had written illuminating: “it makes the case very convincingly for expertise offered as a basis for policy-making being more robustly based on both independence and breadth of opinion.”

88 replies on “Lessons from the 1950s?”

The lesson from the 1950s: we move forward with non Fianna Fail governments.

Plus ça change.

Frank Barry raises very important issues as what exists today is absolutely contrary to the public interest.

Simply, most Irish government statements and speeches cannot be taken at face value. The system dominated by spin and civil servants appear to play second fiddle to political advisers.

Coupled with the Houses of the Oireachtas of 226 members, where even at low single digits, it’s a struggle to think of individuals who have inspired during this brutal crisis, ministers can with impunity, lie, distort data and avoid discussing inconvenient challenges.

In the current successor to the Department of Industry and Commerce, the ministers Richard Bruton and Seán Sherlock, are like clones of their predecessors, producing the same PR/ management consultancy gobbledygook. Bruton appears to run a permanent publicity campaign and
on Friday, he listed how many trade missions he has led, in claiming credit for a recovery in pharmaceutical exports from foreign-owned firms.

I have often thought that if the enterprise agency heads are as sycophantic in private as they are in public, then god help us!

I cannot recall anything of consequence uttered by Barry O’Leary, current IDA Ireland chief or Frank Ryan, Enterprise Ireland chief.

In this system dominated by short-term political interest, dissenters are not welcome and the lists of approved people for quangos, ‘expert’ groups, task forces and so on, are individuals who have a record of not rocking the boat.

So when Brain Cowen, then taoiseach in 2009, appointed a 28-person Innovation Taskforce, it was packed with insiders including representatives from big law and accounting firms – they know of course who butters their bread – and it produced a report that is likely the most lubricious in the enterprise area, in the history of the state.

Who wants facts and this week, the president of NUI Maynooth, claimed the commercialisation of research at the university has been a success.

He didn’t say if it was 10 or 15 jobs that were created in spinoffs annually that needed further state support.

This week also, IDA Ireland made a separate announcement that Groupon, the US online coupon service would create 20 jobs. Nobody wants to take responsibility for job losses.

The following is from the Department of Finance’s Mid-Term Fiscal Statement November 2012:

“Support for overall activity is coming from the exporting sectors, with services exports becoming an increasingly important engine of growth in recent quarters. This, in no small part, reflects the improvements in price and cost competitiveness that have been evident since the onset of the crisis”

This is an untrue statement but does it need a House of Commons committee report on Google UK to change the tune?

It should of course be noted, that this has been conventional wisdom too for the Central Bank, the ESRI and private sector economists.

Getting to know people at a person level as in business, taking a client for a few pints or to a sporting event, is a strategy to disarm and then take advantage when necessary, of what is a friendship of convenience.

Whether in business or elsewhere, few people distinguish between personal and professional criticism.

So it would not be easy to change the culture of kowtowing.

Meanwhile, there is an enterprise policy that isn’t working while policy makers are clueless on how to respond to the jobs crisis beyond more ‘schemes’ that can be ticked off every quarter on a ‘to do’ list.

The lament that in the good old days wise senior civil servants protected the people from foolish politicians seems rose tinted. Clever yes men rise to the top in bureaucracy, always have, always will. The alternative is to put each elected government in charge of the government with all senior civil servants political appointees. These people are clearly linked with the party in power and are swept aside when a different party takes the reins following a democratic election. Irish weakness lies more in an ineffective parliamentary system dominate for years by two effectively identical parties (FG & FF).

A further issue from the 50s is thwt it’s only when things are truly desperate that the system makes major changes. I noted before, to revilement and derision, that we missed a great chance to reset the system. Where is John the Optimist now?

Brian Lucey’s point on real change happening only when a situation is dire, dovetails with arguments about austerity.

Once there is a glimmer of hope, the interest in reform eases.

As for Geronimo, Frank Barry isn’t arguing that the system in the 1950s was perfect.

The reason why most people do not change their minds despite the facts is that the benchmark is perfection. However, there is none in the real world.

In 1883, almost two decades after the British established a permanent civil service, the Pendleton Civil Service Act provided for a permanent federal civil service in the US.

It was a time of massive corruption in American politics and it took another 30 years to end the auction of US Senate seats in state legislatures.

Today as workers in developed country democracies have guaranteed statutory rights, the work lifetime guarantee is an anachronism that hinders responsibility and accountability at management level. Low corruption in a country such as Sweden is not dependent on work lifetime jobs in the civil service.

Seniority and the lifetime work guarantee have been ended in Sweden and Finland. Strict rules apply to keep the services free from political interference in appointments.

At a 2008 conference on Ireland’s economy, hosted by the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) in association with the Department of Finance, as a tribute to the contribution of Dr TK Whitaker, on the 50th anniversary of the publication of ‘Economic Development,’ Prof Paul Hare of Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University said:

“In some respects, though, Ireland’s economic institutions, especially where they concern issues of competition policy; selection of personnel for senior positions (eg in private business, the civil service, the universities); the awarding of government contracts; and so on, seem inherently quite vulnerable to, special pleading, ‘jobs for the boys’, and other such undesirable distortions. ‘Jobs for the boys’ (and girls, too, naturally) is a widespread practice in many countries and generally refers to the practice of securing jobs through personal connections and the like.

“If the boys(and girls) who actually get the jobs are sufficiently deserving and competent, then the system need not be so bad (though it is never fair). But how does a country build up the ‘ethos’ that makes this happen and sustains it? In a small country like Ireland, where at elite level everyone knows everyone else, this is surely immensely difficult.

To ensure both fairness and high standards, I would therefore favour extensive use of international panels of experts, along with a high degree of openness and transparency. To achieve this, Ireland still has some way to go.”

An extract from the Programme for Government

“We will legislate for a reformulated code of laws, replacing both the Ministers and Secretaries Acts and the Public Service Management Act, which will spell out the legal relationship between Ministers and their civil servants and their legal accountability for decisions and for management of Departments.

• The system of implied general delegation of a Minister’s statutory powers to civil servants will be abolished and replaced by a fixed and determined system of delegation of specified powers to specified officers.

• Where a responsibility is delegated through several civil service grades, each grade will be held accountable for their element of it and departmental officials giving evidence to Oireachtas committees will be obliged to speak on their own behalf for their delegated responsibilities and, where appropriate, defend themselves and their actions.

• Delegation orders will spell out the functions of the Minister in supervising the exercise of delegated powers: the Minister will be responsible for ensuring that adequate standards are maintained; outputs are delivered as determined or agreed; and procedures are in place to provide the Minister with the necessary and correct information to enable him or her to respond to problems of administration and to give an account of those problems, and of any necessary corrective action, to the
Dáil and to the public.”

While there has been progress on many fronts, there has been no action, it seems, with regard to the above. This is just as well as the proposal goes to the very heart of the misunderstanding, to put it euphemistically, between politicians and the public service in Ireland. It is not the job of ministers to manage the activities of the public sector but to set its limits and objectives and to take political responsibility for doing so.

The current legislation, which replaced the Ministers and Secretaries Act of 1924, blurs that distinction. The status quo ante needs to be re-established.

This is the debate that needs to take place, including abandoning the illusion that the public sector is homogeneous and that the scope of its activities are established by some form of divine intervention (or, more accurately, political whim). The negotiations on Croke Park III have helped demonstrate the need to examine each activity on its merits and to come to appropriate conclusions on appropriate remuneration levels. Ideally, budgets would be set for these activities, decided by ministers answerable to parliament, with managers allowed to get on with their jobs, but also subject to appropriate, including parliamentary, control arrangements under the relevant legislation. This would allow the payment of salary rates that are appropriate – subject to basic parameters – and overcome the current Lake Woebegon logic where all the children are above average and paid by grade rather by what they achieve, locking the system into a wasteful sytem of relativities and resultant poor morale and a haemorrhaging of the best staff.

The wrong turn taken with regard to management reform also ended up in the common belief among politicians that they are also public servants and the reasoning outlined in Chapter 7 of the Buckley Report which linked their salaries directly to those paid in the public sector. Herewith the resulting Irish “bottin mondain”, which includes, it will be noted, the top levels in universities and hospital consultants (!).


If we wish to return to the rigour of the 50’s, the fundamental logic of the legislative framework that guided it needs to be recreated. All else is but froth.

Relevant to this post and, more particularly, the situation we allow to persist in healthcare.

I read the HSE report into the death in Galway and followed the coverage in the media in the past few days. Commentators are either forgetting about or ignoring the elephant in the room which is: did the patient have private health insurance? For those of you who may not know, even with private health cover a pregnant woman must pay an additional €3k+ to a consultant obstetrician to become a private patient of that obstetrician during pregnancy and up to the delivery and immediate aftermath of the baby. My sister-in-law is currently ‘going private’ in a regional hospital and the obstetrician’s fee is €3k which either must be paid up-front or in stages. This €3k is not refundable by the private health insurer (apart from a small allowance of approx. €250) and tax relief at only 20% is available. I understand in the bigger maternity hospitals that the obstetrician’s fee can be at least €4k or over and it is probably in the range €3k-€4k in Galway. Payment of this €3k theoretically guarantees that a pregnant woman will be seen directly by her consultant obstetrician at all her ante natal appointments and the consultant will personally deliver the baby. For those ‘going public’ the consultant obstetrician will, at most, see the woman on her first appointment and thereafter her care will be delegated to the NCHD’s. Many women who have given birth have said there is no comparison between ‘going public’ and ‘going private’ as the latter is especially comforting in the event of any complications arising as it generally guarantees the personal attention of the consultant. The experience of ‘going private’ for many mothers is that even if the consultant is not available both nursing staff and NCHD’s will ‘jump to attention’ on hearing that the woman is a private patient and the NCHD’s will give the woman personal attention fearing the wrath of the person who is controlling their career at that point if they do not look after his/her private patients.

It appears to me from having read the report that, in the case reported this week, the deceased was not under the private care of an obstetrician and therefore there was no-one personally managing the case.


Very interesting.

‘This would allow the payment of salary rates that are appropriate – subject to basic parameters – and overcome the current Lake Woebegone logic where all the children are above average and paid by grade rather by what they achieve, locking the system into a wasteful system of relativities and resultant poor morale and a haemorrhaging of the best staff’

The issue of salary rates and tenure can be addressed fairly only when the management problems have been identified. The most glaring problem, IMHO, is the lack of any mechanism for dislodging those senior members whose mediocrity in the role, or whose intertwined conflicts of interest, frustrates and cripples the activity of those who report to them.

Absent some genuine transparency on that issue, proposals of the type you suggest can only worsen morale. As the French say, the fish rots from the head. It’s not clever, in the long run, for the residents of our leafy suburbs to cover (or scratch) each other’s backs so blindly.

At least the current government can never be accused of telling the truth;

@ Paul Quigley

A bit Utopian? I agree! But the important issue is to identify the fundamental fault and to go about correcting it. It is not a matter of management but of government. What we have instead is a farrago of controversy which simply serves to hide the self-serving sanctimoniousness of those involved and, it must be said, the Irish public in general. Bunbury above has identified what is a national scandal; a two-tier health system. Will anyone address its impact in the here and now?

As to France, I linked to this Le Figaro article on another thread.


Google Translate gives a pretty accurate version. N.B. The point where the senior officials attempt to nobble a particular initiative.

By the way, this excellent article by Arthur Ramsey in the Observer may also interest you.


I agree in general with the thesis you advance with regard to the role of vested interests. But these are not confined to MNCs. In any case, the job of a democracy is to manage competing interests in a manner which is reasonably acceptable to a majority, the defining characteristic of said democracy being the ability to change its leaders peacefully. It seems that the Irish electorate is ready to re-elect leaders who made an incredibly bad job of doing so; pace Iceland which has just abandoned its objective of joining the EU.

Neither would I agree that the nation state has had its day (Bobbitt). When push comes to shove, it boils down to the capacity to raise a militia, the taxes to pay for it and the capacity to manage military affairs to achieve victory. Having a wide participation by US MNCs globally is hardly accidental and a decision by Congress to force them to come home would reflect a retreat into isolationism the desire for which is not evident.

Three days ago Rory Stewart (Con) made a very good speech on how the decision for the Iraq war highlights the shortfalls in the present government system in the UK.

“…it was a terrible, catastrophic decision—but I think it is dangerous to put the whole blame simply on Blair and Bush, because the implication is that if we do not have Blair and Bush around, we will never get in these messes again. We will get in these messes again because we have not created the proper Government policy structures required to think these things through—not just to avoid the decision to invade, but above all to get out more rapidly once we have made a bad decision…”

There is a debate on it on the Crooked Timber blog, but the speech itself explores the problems for the careers of those who challenged the system. And how this inevitably damages decisions.

@Conor O’Brien

Three days ago Rory Stewart (Con) made a very good speech on how the decision for the Iraq war highlights the shortfalls in the present government system in the UK.

This is also discussed at the end of John McHale’s earlier thread after this post

It is a brilliant speech and it touches on a number of issues important to how the European component of the global financial crisis has been handled, in Ireland and in the European Union. One of the key points of course is that we need the establishment to admit policy failure or be replaced.

Light heartedly what about extending the comparison a little?

I see Saddam’s imaginary WMD as “national fiscal irresponsibility” (with Osama Bin Laden as the international financial system), the fiscal compact as the invasion of sensible economic policy by austerity, the ECB as the military, out of their intellectual depth, with Merkel and Sarkozy as Bush and Blair respectively.

Who might end up in the economic war crimes tribunal in Copenhagen? Is Schäuble Cheney? Who is Judy Miller? Which European think-tank most resembles the Brooking’s Institution? Any other suggestions?


A very powerful speech. Of relevance in determining the relationship between civil servants and their political masters. However, I doubt its pertinence to the Irish situation other than in one obvious respect; the fact that we have inherited an unsuitable public service tradition from a former empire where the public service structure seems closely allied to that in the military, down to the titles used. This is the model we have to abandon. Other smaller democracies, notably the Scandinavian, provide suitable alternatives.

If the “reform” carried out by the previous government was a success, how can the hole into which the country has stumbled be explained? This raises the question of why it is being persisted with. I suspect that the reason is that it forces an artificial, but largely standardised if vacuous, management system on all departments – irrespective of what their responsibilities actually are – which provides an element of central control viewed as essential in the present state of national finances. But this is to waste a crisis; if persisted with.

One issue of historic importance is whether any civil servants were involved directly or indirectly in some of the criminal conspiracies which took place near the end of the bubble, when Anglo Irish Bank was unraveling. There were two strands of activity which look like criminal conspiracies. One was the attempt to use Anglo Irish Bank assets (effectively bank deposits) to prop up the Anglo Irish Bank share price. The other was the misrepresentation of Anglo’s annual reports to increase “corporate deposits” via fraudulent circular transactions. If there are senior civil servants, retired or otherwise, who can be tied directly or indirectly (such as passive acceptance) into these activities via emails, etc. that is of considerable importance.

One issue of historic importance is whether any civil servants were involved directly or indirectly in some of the criminal conspiracies which took place near the end of the bubble, when Anglo Irish Bank was unraveling.

We know that the Dept of Finance was involved in planning the Bank Guarantee as far back as Feb 2008(The popular mind appears to have blamed this one on a late night visit to David McWilliams’ for some reason.). The Central Bank was certainly involved in ELA going back farther than that. The NTMA was explicitly aware that Anglo was in trouble going back to 2007, but apparently said nothing.

And why would they say anything? Sure, haven’t they all retained fine salaries, pensions, and even managed to find second jobs in the very same banks their actions or inactions helped to keep alive? Won’t they continue to do so as long as the criminals in those banks remain at large. What incentive is there for Nua-Asendancy Ireland investigate anything.

Just like the 1950s, there is a conspiracy of silence in this country. A code of Omerta among the professional classes protects the league of criminals running the banks and departments in Ireland. I wonder if this silence will last out the continuing creep of austerity, or if these pips will finally squeak?

Politicians and Civil Servants are one and indivisible in Ireland. As I see it the politicians are temporarily employed Civil Servants. The correct terminology is “term employee”. The 166 seat Dail is far larger than is necessary to govern effectively. A two thirds reduction in seats would go a long way toward reducing micromanagement of the Civil Service by members of the Dail. The TDs’ seem to be aware of this and are trying to divert attention from over staffing in the Dail by raising the issue of abolishing the Seanad. The Seanad performs a useful function by providing the Gov’t of the day with a place to put under performing Ministers without resorting to the nuclear option of demoting them. The Seanad could be reduced to 50 seats from 60 without ill affect.

One could say that the political gene pool in Ireland is narrow and the Civil Servants being a subset of the governing party political gene pool is even narrower.

The Galway maternity tragedy paints us as a nation of incompetents and even worse a nation of people whose judgement is clouded by religious
taboos more reminiscent of the Dark Ages than the 21st century. This has been well covered above so I will not beat it to death.

“…inherited an unsuitable public service tradition from a former empire where the public service structure seems closely allied to that in the military, down to the titles used. This is the model we have to abandon. Other smaller democracies, notably the Scandinavian, provide suitable alternatives. …”
@Frank Barry in the Independant:
“Why might the 1950s be of particular relevance today? The recession of the time was one of the deepest in independent Ireland’s history.
But the policy reforms instituted over that decade gave birth to the modern Irish economy.”
Rory Stewart again:
“I think it is dangerous to put the whole blame simply on Blair and Bush, because the implication is that if we do not have Blair and Bush around, we will never get in these messes again.”

Frank Barry’s argument (and Rory Stewart’s in the UK) could lead -I apologise if I am taking it out of context- to the conclusion that the solution lies in a rebalancing of the powers of the different branches of government by the addition other power centers.
The premise of a centralised system of decision and executive remains.

DOCM appears to argue for a break with this model. Since being semi-centralised is as likely, and as fruitful, as being semi-pregnant it implies a complete change in mindset at the top. This is an outlandish expectation.
Thinking through the implications of such a change is critical if we accept that centralised power structures inevitably lead to group-think failures.

If such a system is not working it will break under pressure of its inherent instability. It will not break clean but will likely retain sufficient atavistic centralism to reconstitute itself.
To prevent that it needs to be forced off the stage by a more coherent world-view. That is the implication for me of DOCM’s argument.

@ Shay Begorrah

I’ve been meaning to reply to the other thread.

Consider what was the predominant culture in the DoF and the department of an Taoiseach before, during and after the boom i.e. now?

I go back to a paper delivered by Dermot McCarthy in Kenmare in October 2005. At the time he was chairman of the national economic and social council NESC and secretary general at the department of an Taoiseach. McCarthy maintained that the “Strategic Management Initiative” had provided the proper framework to deliver ‘A New Vision For The Civil Service’ which had been set out in the document “Delivering Better Government”. It included the belief that they were creating and living the following fantasy;

“a high performance, open flexible organization operating to the highest standards of integrity, equity, impartiality and….accountability;

With a mission and a culture of quality service to government and to the public at every level and delivering in a helpful and corteous manner; that makes the maximuim contribution to the national social and economic development and to competitiveness, within a clear strategic framework, both at the level of the the individual departments and across departments”

You see, the problem is, that people like McCarthy and Cardiff the lifers at the Dof and Dept of an Taoiseach actually believed all this jobsworths stuff was true, it was the culture of self delusion within which the departments were immersed and continue to be immersed.

There is no reforming these boys.

@DOCM, @ Conor O’B

“…inherited an unsuitable public service tradition from a former empire where the public service structure seems closely allied to that in the military, down to the titles used. This is the model we have to abandon. Other smaller democracies, notably the Scandinavian, provide suitable alternatives. …”

I know you have taken a stance that is highly popular in Ireland.

Could we get the British out of our lives. We are now four generations removed from British rule. If we cannot unlearn bad governance four generations out then we are indeed a hopeless case.

The easy way out that’s us, grasping for straws that will fob off our responsibility for our inability to responsibly govern ourselves.

@ Gregory Connor

One issue of historic importance is whether any civil servants were involved directly or indirectly in some of the criminal conspiracies which took place near the end of the bubble…

As an immigrant you may not be familiar with the Arms Trail of 1970 when Charles Haughey, the sacked minister of finance, and others were charged with illegally importing arms for the IRA in Northern Ireland, which involved the use of public funds.

After a trial dominated by claims of knowledge among serving officials of the importation, including a senior officer of the Army, the defendants were found not guilty.

In the Anglo Irish Bank matter, it’s not clear if any investigations have extended beyond the Director of Corporate Enforcement’s remit in respect of director responsibilities.

@ All

The Institute of Public Administration has reported on reform progress:

“To the extent that workforce planning is considered, much of the thinking is around the need to find ways to continue to do what the organisation has always done rather than use workforce planning to facilitate more fundamental thinking about new ways of working. There are, however, examples of good practice where public service organisations have sought to implement workforce planning, including the Courts Service and Dublin City Council.”


Ministers use civil servants for constituency work while the low quality of local representation in a clientist system with little concern for conflicts of interest, has been a disincentive for decentralisation of powers.

During the bubble, local councillors as electors of Seanad members, successfully lobbied them to pressure the Government to provide severance and public pension deals.

I wrote this in 2009:

“Taoiseach Brian Cowen and each cabinet member (total of 15), have a total of 140 private office staff and 76 constituency office employees. Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader, John Gormley, employs 15.5 including part-time staff – nine in his private office at a salary cost of upwards of €590,335. Non-salary staff expenses in Gormley’s department last year amounted to €128,635. The average industrial wage is €32,000.

RTÉ’s Prime Time programme highlighted in November 2007, the involvement of elected representatives in the land, development and property business.

A total of 22% of councillors deal in or develop land through their day jobs as estate agents, landowners and builders. In Mayo, that figure rose as high as 45%; in Offaly it was 44% and in eight other counties it was 33% or more.

Prime Time found that in Clare, declarations of interest show that 97% of elected members have no beneficial interest even in their family home. In ten counties, two-thirds or more of the councillors have not declared an interest in the family home.

The programme was broadcast 10 years after the establishment of a public tribunal to investigate planning corruption.

Ireland’s crack cocaine – land rezoning by local councillors, which results in huge windfalls, in a country that is 4% urbanised – has remained unreformed – ZERO has been done to reform the corrupt land rezoning system.”

@ Conor O’Brien

That is, indeed, the implication of my argument. A radical crisis requires a radical response.

@ Mickey Hickey

My point regarding the model that we inherited has nothing whatever to do with anti-British sentiment. It is a statement of the rather obvious. One could add that we also inherited some vital aspects of the UK public service which would, one would hope, continue under a new dispensation i.e. a relatively high level of efficiency and integrity at the executive level.

On the view that politicians – and their political advisers – take of their role, it is light years away from the attitude of the founders of the state. This is reflected in the bizarre extract from the Programme for Government to which I have linked above. They do, indeed, view themselves as employees and not representatives to a democratically-elected Oireachtas in charge of the public purse.

One could say, not entirely facetiously, that they have succeeded in getting public acceptance for that role. But as employees of whom?


Ireland has well-deserved reputation for extending the begging-bowl and taking it as the country’s right to do so. Germany is facing a bill of €8 billion in respect of recent flood damage and the debate is about whether to raise taxes or borrow the money to pay for it. Imagine what the reaction would be in Ireland in similar circumstances!

@ DOCM: “… how can the hole into which the country has stumbled be explained? This raises the question of why it is being persisted with.”

I beg to differ (mildly) that we ‘stumbled’. This begets the questions: Are our senior politicians and civil servants that ill-informed, that in-curious, that unconcerned? I would bet that some did know. The Financial Regulator? The Chairman of the CB? Was there any ‘well-know’ persona who cashed -out in 2006?

Now the question is: Did any speak up? And if so, when? And what was the response, – if any? Too many questions. No answers (other than the usual smart alec ones).

Explaining the persistence is easy – and may point to the dearth of knowledge and technical expertise (which explains the ‘stumbling’ bit): Just “carry on”. A successful failure is preferable to an acknowledged failure. The former allows you to persist, indefinitely. The latter means you have to start thinking – and ‘worse’, taking hard decisions!

Perhaps some Political Science reading might be in order. What exactly, is the present nature and behaviour of our main-stream political parties? They sure as hell are mighty different from 80 years ago, even 50 years ago. When did they change, and how? And keep in mind the close relationship with the upper echelons of the public service. Some inconvenient truths will emerge.

@ Michael H

The Arms trial took place in era which was extremely disturbed. Thousands of people fled across the border after violent sectarian pogroms in Belfast. The governing authorities failed abjectly in their fundamental duty to protect their own citizens. The Taoiseach felt obligated to make a speech about ‘not standing idly by’, and political opinion in the country was bitterly divided, north and south. It is hardly surprising that our constitutional order would come under strain in such violent and chaotic circumstances, and it did.

No such pressures were at work when the Gardaí did what they did in Donegal. Nor was there any such pressure on the very senior doctors who defended Neary’s practice so blindly. There have been dozens and dozens of scandals involving senior stakeholders in Ireland.

The determined and prolonged cover up of clerical sex abuse provides the classic example of institutional self preservation and groupthink. The historical record shows that, with rare exceptions, institutional heads will place their particular interests above the general good. As Pierre Bourdieu says, those ‘acolytes’ who have least to offer outside the institution are those who most need to defend it.

@ PQ

I think it is fairly clear that Ireland is going through a phase that involves multiple institutional breakdown. FF , the Church and the Finance sector all collapsed within a few years of each other. Elites are supposed to function at a higher level but in all 3 cases they were overwhelmed by reality.

There but for the grace of god went FG and Labour.

And yet FF are most popular party ; we remain a nominally catholic country and the jails aint clogged with financiers…

@ Brian Lucey
“And yet FF are most popular party”

That is a sad indictment of the state of the nation

If posters on here can expunge their pre bust track record, why can’t FF get their penalty points written off?


If posters on here can expunge their pre bust track record, why can’t FF get their penalty points written off?

That is a question people ask me a lot Tull. And eh my answer is always the same. I say, “Well, listen. We’re gonna have to go all the way back to the Civil War.”

No other reason, Fine Gael are even less progressive than Fianna Fail. It is just old style Irish civil war politics under the thin, thin cover of the bank guarantee.

@ paul quigley

The brazenness of these moral mullahs remounting their high horses is something to behold.

Terry Prone, who made a living over the years tutoring politicians on improving their communications skills on television, says today in the Examiner that Declan Ganley and Michael McDowell are eager for comebacks because they want to be back on the TV.

Who has any real convictions these days?

People can evolve over time but McDowell recently termed the proposed abolition of the Seanad as a power grab and constitutional outrage. It was PD policy and it is hardly strange that his or Ganley’s position on issues depends on what suits their self interest.


Terry Prone refers to Michael Clifford’s piece in Saturday’s Examiner. I’m glad he got a platform after the demise of The Sunday Tribune.

He writes on a Ganley event to test the waters for a new political party.

Ray Kinsella, a professor at the Smurfit School of Business who imparts costly wisdom or not to MBA students, spoke about the link between abortion and austerity:

An elderly woman told me some years ago when a neighbour who had adopted a child was leaving mass one Sunday morning, another neighbour had accosted her and asked: “How could you leave a stranger’s child into your house?”

Why, it was Niamh Uí Bhríain, a well-known figure in the anti-abortion movement. Curiouser and curiouser.

She introduced Ray Kinsella and he wasn’t long into his speech when he declared that “abortion and austerity” were interlinked.

Then he launched into a polemic about the legislation passing through the Oireachtas and respect for life and before you could say “where’s me economy”, he was into a full frontal anti-abortion spiel.

A few in the audience felt they’d been drawn in under false pretences: “Why are we listening to an economist talking about abortion,” one exasperated voice said. He was shouted down.

A few minutes later, another gent got up and stormed towards the exit, shouting: “I thought this was a political meeting.” Ray ploughed on, undeterred, in his gentle, lilting monologue.

At one point he said, “This is the safest place in the world to have a baby. I know something about that. I have 10.” The audience applauded. They gave him a round of applause for fathering 10 children.

What if he had said he’d two? Would that have merited applause?

What rate of reproduction do these people deem as appropriate for acclaim?

Once the abortion thing was dealt with, he said: “Now I’ll turn to austerity.”

He went through many sensible solutions which he has ventilated on the airwaves and in print, but later on he drifted back to his original topic.

“As I said, abortion and austerity are linked,” he said.


I have no doubt whatsoever that there were people “who knew”. But the breakdown occurred in the inability of officials to “speak truth to power”. Indeed, the distinction between supposedly independent officials and their ministers was not defended in the determined fashion that it should have been. It is a matter of public record that ministers envied the capacity of their officials to get them – as they saw it – into political hot water and not have to answer for it (“sipping gins and tonics” while their minister tried to deal with the fall-out, as I heard one comment a few days ago).

The legislation, “reformed” to deal with this problem as ministers saw it, has made the situation worse. Indeed, it has created a damaging vacuum. But it remains the crux of the matter. We must get back to the situation, as in the UK, where the political buck stops on the minister’s desk or else , as is presently the case, it stops nowhere.

The authors of this text in the Programme for Government clearly have no understanding of what is required.

“The system of implied general delegation of a Minister’s statutory powers to civil servants will be abolished and replaced by a fixed and determined system of delegation of specified powers to specified officers.”

What I say above is not an argument for not holding public servants to account. This can be done through appropriate management systems, fixing the responsibility for clearly defined tasks with chief executives, including before committees of parliament. This is impossible as long as the present public service wide “management system” is persisted with which assumes the veterinary service is the same as the meteorological service. Unfortunately, it is enshrined in legislation, its only product being, as far as I can judge, a sea of management guff and a waste of valuable labour.

@ Conor O’Brien

I agree with you on that point. Indeed, I would suggest that the values you mention are what is enabling us to emerge slowly and painfully from the mess that has been created. But they should also help us correct the institutional errors that have been made. Otherwise those with less consideration for them will resume where they left off.

@ Tull

Bring your question along to my clinic in Stillorgan SC between 2 and 3 next Saturday and I’ll see if I can fix you up.

@ DOCM: Appreciate that. Nicely crafted. Thanks.

@Shay: “No other reason, Fine Gael are even less progressive than Fianna Fail. It is just old style Irish civil war politics under the thin, thin cover of the bank guarantee.”

FG and FF are quite similar; they just pretend to represent different (but overlapping segments) of the voters – who are a mighty conservative lot.

Labour (the Irish version) was never a mass socialist movement and only gets into power by default – there being no other alternative. FG and Labour are very uncomfortable bedfellows. FF and Labour are much closer. But Devvie was too greedy to share. Charlie was too toxic. The ILP needs to be extinguished. Ireland is unlikely to ever support a proper social democratic style political party – but you never know!

These guys FF and FG have left Civil War politics behind – they are no longer mass parties but cartelized parties, alloyed with the public service. Ganly is trying a Berlesconi – without the Buga-bunga!

Now our Irish Nationalist Socialist party [SF] is another matter entirely. It has NOT left Civil War politics. Beware!

And our financial and economic purgatory – like the Dude, endures! Bloody marvelous.

No clinics in Stillorgan. In fact nobody goes to clinics anymore. Cold and dank rooms.
If there is one feature of our politics that is welcome it is relatively free of corruption. You need not give a Minister 100k for something as happened in Germany or give a senator cash for PQs. Some will do it for the promise of a first pref.

Micheal Martin constituency clinic is on google. There are no SoD TDs in BAC so that might be why the clinics are not as fluirseach at the moment.

@Brian Woods Sr — the dude ABIDES, if you are quoting from “The Big Lebowski.” Was that the allusion?

@ Conor O’Brien/BWS

In an idle moment, I googled “strategy statement” and this is what Wikipedia came up with.


This is largely what constitutes the relevant Irish public service reform programme!

Management theories come and go. Ireland is the first country, to my knowledge, to enshrine one in legislation.

It is just another example of the ridiculous spin that M Hennigan takes apart in his posts.

Pace David Snowden and Cognitive Edge it is an attempt to manage a complex adaptive system using complicated command and control.
The complex system cannot be managed that way and is going to become chaotic.
There are two ways of bringing it back to a version of order.
One is by allowing further chaos and imposing control. Which will bring us back to the present centralising values.
The other is by holding to a set of values and looking for fertile areas on which to grow new institutiions.

The values are key. The next step is looking for ways to apply them and let people know what they mean.

@DOCM: Thanks for the wiki. Reminds me of my olde dayze! Flat management structures perform best. Limited time in a senior position (3 yrs max) – limits both enthusiasm and unwelcome outcomes.

@ CO’B: “The values are the key”

True, but you try getting corporate baboons to agree values*. They will incept committees, sub-committees and sub-sub committees, and on and on and on. A committee of 7 will morph into 27. A simple, single page doc will quickly morph into 100 pages of unctious waffle – or worse, several volumes! Seen it happen.

Task Forces (time and objective) limited. Task Force decisions SHALL be implemented – or else! You’d be surprised how well this can work. Its the ability to impose the ‘or else’ that concentrates minds. Its this level of enlightenment, innovation, technical expertise and raw courage that is missing. The possessors of these attributes are usually spotted early on and deliberately shunted aside. “Bloody boat-rockers!”

* Gowin V-heuristic of theory and practice. [Educating: G Bob Gowin]

There is also another text by Novak and Gowin, but I cannot recall the title right now. which explains the differences between Knowledge Claims (which are verifiable) and Value Claims (which are very argumentative).

Chris Argyris wrote two useful organisational ‘manuals’: ‘The Individual and the Organisation’ and Integrating the Individual and the Organisation’ – back in the 1970s and 1980s. Again, I am quoting from memory – so you need to check.

I hope I’m not too late to leave a post on this thread. I’ve often read the comments here (from all angles) – and have received much insight that otherwise wouldn’t have been obtained as a result.

The point I want to raise is on the difference (if any) between FG and FF

BWS: (Could be any others, but yours is the most recent I’ve read)
in your post above (June 17, 4:13pm) you state that:
“FG and FF are quite similar; they just pretend to represent different (but overlapping segments) of the voters – who are a mighty conservative lot.”

and later say
“FG and Labour are very uncomfortable bedfellows. FF and Labour are much closer.”

If FG and FF are very similar, why is there a diffence between how closely they coexist with labour in coalition?

Reason for Question:
I ask this because as far as I can see there is a difference in how FG and FF govern – FG is much more laissez-faire economically. This could be because of circumstances. My experience of FG govs are 80s, 90s and now. 80s was disaster where FG couldn’t implement their policies and didn’t see out their term (as well as being hijacked by the Abortion Referendum). 90s govt seemed to avoid interfering in the economy in any drastic fashion. Now, addressing public finance crisis, again (80s and then some).

Whereas FF is much more populist and likely to purchase sections of the population. Late 70s/80s abolished motor tax (I think). Late 80s early 90s, implemented FG policies of cutting public spending (supported by FG in tallaght strategy). Late 90s/00s cut taxes, increased public spending.

Core concern:
I often see this FG/FF bandied about as if two sides of same coin. To me, this undermines alternative government by FG and is too frequent to be accidental. I suspect that there are quite powerful elements in influential Irish society whose desire is to keep the permanent party in power. If there truly is no difference between FG and FF, why not vote for FF? At very least, undecided voters won’t consider voting FG.

@ Newbie,

I haven’t been able to figure out why, but it has seemed to me that for most of the period since WWll Irish voters have wanted FG policies, but have wanted FF to implement them!

FF offers to buy the electorate free drink all night and then take you home. Then the party bus ends up in the ditch. FG & Lab then come along to repair the bus and put everybody on a cold turkey regime. But we are a sociable lot who will go down the pub again in a few days time. Guess whAt will happen to the bus.?

@ Newbie

This thread will probably not have a very extended life because there is zero enthusiasm in the circles that matter for discussing the issues it raises (for drawing attention to which Frank Barry deserves considerable credit).

As to the differences between FG and FF, while voters in an urban setting might have some difficulty in establishing what it is, those in rural Ireland have none whatsoever. When the civil war eventually ended it was won by those “who chose property over continued revolution”. (I cannot recall who wrote this!). The choices divided families but, in the main, the larger farmers and the professional classes went with FG. This pattern remains unchanged.

In short, those with a grasp of the larger influences on the economy have been regularly replaced by those taking an entirely populist line. Labour is stuck – powerless – in the middle of this see-saw.

On the institutional issues, the curiosity is that the troika and technology are changing the rules of the game. Tightly organised “teams”, with limited mandates, are showing what a self-serving bureaucratic leadership is incapable of achieving in relation to previous no-go areas, septic tanks register, water metering, local property tax being the best examples. What has been demonstrated on the revenue raising side must now be demonstrated on the services provided side (or “outputs” as they would be described in the current management parlance).

I doubt if it will.

@ newbie

Failte romhat. It’s never too late to post 🙂

If you have the time try Joe Lees’ ‘Ireland 1912-85’ for a bit of perspective on the origins of our state and party system. Joe is not the only relevant voice, but he plays some of the rare old tunes.

@ newbie:

“Question: If FG and FF are very similar, why is there a difference between how closely they coexist with Labour in coalition?”

Tricky question. My answer will depend on your knowledge of theories of coalition formation. Basically (and this is very basic) – coalitions form for one of two reasons (1) Power seeking, or (2) Policy implementation. All Irish coalitions except the 1948 and 1952 interparty coalitions and the 1973 FG-ILP coalition, fall into the Power seeking category. It was not until 1989 that the FF veto on forming a coalition was abandoned, but ‘normal’ service was not resumed, as all major parties still refuse to have anything to do with SF. But wait! The current (3rd, FG-Lab coalition) is a super-majoritarian coalition – very rare. The Reynolds/Spring coalition was somewhat similar. The Rainbow that followed was probably close to being a policy implementation coalition.

Coalition formation theory suggested a super-majoritarian coalition would be a policy implementation administration. The theory proved to be dead wrong. Labour were desperate for power and threw all their principles into the trash can – despite all their PR sh*te to the contrary. There is also the nature of the electoral districts (constituencies) and the electoral formula (PR-SVT) that need to be factored in. Its ‘parish pump’ all the way.

The Irish electorate (whatever folk may say about them) are overwhelming right-of-centre (our median voter is right-of-centre). FF was regularly able to capture sufficient numbers of voters (it had a broader reach on either side of the median voter). FG on the other hand had a narrower reach and have no alternative but to seek a coalition partner – if they wanted to get into power. The ILP was a left-of-centre slightly socialist party, with a narrow reach, so if it wanted to broaden support it had to appeal to the right-of centre voters closest to the centre. This strategy worked on several occasions – especially if FF were unpopular. Once FF support is rebuilt, ILP will be trashed.

Irish electoral politics is overwhelming local. National issues are very low priority. The behaviour of TDs and government policies always reflect this ‘parish pump’ political reality. So, the voters carefully choose the spectrum of TDs they believe will ‘look after’ them. You will not change this – easily. Nor will you change the behaviour of the political parties as they seek to optimize votes, transfers and seats – on a constituency-by-constituency basis! Parish pump politics is still alive and well in Ireland – now ably supported by Twitter!

Many folk have naive, out-of-date ideas about our political parties – they are no longer mass parties, but cartel parties. The party elites (not members) choose and dictate policies. Ard Feiseanna are pure PR hype. The current parties are also closely alloyed with the public service, professional and business elites. They no longer represent cohorts of voters, but powerful and influential blocs. Unless you clearly understand this difference you will not fully understand contemporary Irish political party politics. In Ireland parliamentary politics is almost exclusively about power (get power, retain power) and all party policies will be directed toward that target. The opposition in the Dáil are simply a bunch of ‘niet men’. Until its their turn. Abolishing the Seanad will only further concentrate party political power. “Lets go for it!”

There is a ‘core’ support for each major party – but this has declined significantly. Its the ‘floaters’ who will now decide future electoral contests. It would be a brave (or foolish) commentator who would predict the probable outcome of the future Irish parliamentary elections.

Paul Q has suggested J J Lee’s very informative history, but unfortunately it stops in 1985 – hence it is not up-to-date. The late Peter Mair has written extensively about Irish party politics. Michael Gallagher is also another good source.

The short brutal answer to your Q; is that contemporary Irish parliamentary parties simply want power, power and more power. Any willing partner or convenient bed will suffice! And hump the policies! Its that bad.

The Brits are giving us a trouncing in terms of what needs to be done and will be done!

The Government (British of course), has been urged to introduce a new criminal offence for “senior persons” who run banks in a “reckless manner”, as well as much more stringent clawback rules that could see managers being stripped of several years’ worth of pay.
Andrew Tyrie MP, the chairman of the Commission on Banking Standards, warned that bankers had escaped “personal responsibility” for their actions, and said that drastic reforms were the only way to restore trust in banks.
“Where the standards of individuals, especially those in senior roles, have fallen short, clear lines of accountability and enforceable sanctions are needed,”

A 570 page report just out that shows the Irish attempts to date to be almost laughable.

From boom to bust, what has fundamentally changed in a failed system of governance and a culture where change only happens when problems become dire?

On a day in November 2006, five ministers attended the launch of plans for a ‘state of the art’ or ‘world class’ Dublin Metro line. On the same day, commuters witnessed the biggest traffic jam in Irish history, caused by a burst water pipe on the M50 motorway.

Improved hardware but what about the software?

The leaked European Commission review has a ‘to do’ list for the Government and again where is the outrage that the State’s annual drugs bill could rise by €400m since 2008 and still a bill providing for more use of generic medicines awaits approval?

Even the cost of generic medicines are out of line: 123% more in Ireland than in the Netherlands, 63% more than in Germany, and 55% more than in Denmark. They cost 26% more than in the next most expensive country, Spain.

This in banjaxed countries!

Ireland’s slow-motion government slammed by European Commission

“Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis,” the Captain Boyle character laments in Seán O’Casey’s ‘Juno and the Paycock.’

In Ireland it’s not only the political system that is in a state of chassis and the muted reaction or none to ministers taking effective control of the residue of the public pensions fund, tell its own story.

Well, what about the software?

Shur aren’t we one of the world’s biggest producers of software?


The notion of citizenship never really took off in Ireland. People need TDs to give them their rights.

FF is a reflection of the people. A local FF activist I know was in the habit of throwing her rubbish over the wall of the railway line that passed by her house. 2 years later she was on the council election list.

Another good one was the reaction to the defenestration of Cowen. I heard a few people saying it was due to anti Offaly bias.

Accountability does not work in this orbit.

@ PQ: “Thanks for the useful refs. The main thing is to keep on hurling. ”

Thanks as well. Yep! Keep grinding away. Its never futile.

@ RB: ” …the Irish attempts to date to be almost laughable.”

I’m opinioned that its a tad un-laughable. A lot of ordinary folk were seriously harmed, and a lot more may expect a similar fate. The chicanery and fraud are not over. These could (possibly) continue for decades. I may have written something about this on different threads – the financial economy has become a dangerous parasite on the productive economy. Regulation and reform may suffice, but I genuinely doubt it. Dismantling and incineration are in order. Curtail the access to unfettered pecuniary advancement and you curtail the power. Its ironic that Veblen wrote about this exact same problem in the late 1890s. Is there some Greek myth, where a severed head re-grows? That’s our financial world for you.

Do not look to any of our current politicians to sort this one out. Perhaps two, even three, general elections hence – maybe.

After 50 plus posts, the message of this thread is clear. If only the ordinary people were as erudite, intelligent, insiteful & patriotic as “us” then we would be in a far better state. Of course, none of us would ever get elected to anything due to the shortcomings of the electorate not the fact that we don’t get our much. Therefore, the conclusion is clear, we need a new electorate.

And the Sunday papers would probably be better too.

Wasn’t there a poster here who went forward for election in Dublin South East?

From the WTF department


“Manchester United’s final rental bill of almost €8.2 million – not to mention a substantial rates contribution – will be more than double the asking price for the 19th-century Lafayette building when it is offered for sale this week on the instructions of a receiver appointed by Bank of Scotland Ireland.”

@ Tull: “Therefore, the conclusion is clear, we need a new electorate.”

Fallacy of composition Tull. We just need elected folk who are basically moral and recognise the Rule-of-Law and ensure that all legislations have a severe “or else” clause. And – someone who has Consitiutional protection and is resourced to pursue and prosecute any legislator and public servant – without exception! There are other things we need, but the foregoing would go a long way to ensuring some minimal level of democratic accountability.

A fish rots from the head. You have to have a sharp cleaver and a honest fishmonger with a good aim and a stout arm, to promptly remove a fishy head. Then this thread might be redundant.

I suggest you run on that agenda. It is not that you are wrong but the over moralistic preachy tone turns people off or folk as you call them.
You are also 100% wrong about power lust of most pols. The greatest surprise to all of them is how little power they have. Take the FG Quango cull…total failure. Why?. Every quango is a conduit for money to lobby groups. Try to mess with that and you will be on page 1 of the tabs.


How would you change the mindset that sees the State as something to milk ? I think it would have to involve real local democracy with spending decisions based locally and a different kind of regional media.

@ All

The central theme of the comments to this point could be said to be that we have been here before. The fact is, we have not. The country is in administration. This is a first in its independent history. The commentariat in general tiptoes past this reality in public debate but actually accommodates itself to it at a practical level.

There is also, it seems to me, a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. One of the most encouraging signs is the fact that the legislation underpinning what is supposedly the management of the public service hardly gets a mention in terms of the actions being taken.

Leaving aside the kind of ridiculous guff such as “Change Delivery Offices” (one can imagine a scene where someone is asked “would you sign for the delivery here please”), this paper reflects more closely the direction in which the country is being pushed.


All that is now needed is to add the question; “should this or that be done by the public sector in the first place?” and to continue to drill down publicly into the actual activities i.e. removing the hitherto accepted convention that it is a black box into which light is shone at the discretion of the relevant minister as faithfully relayed by a not very competent or enquiring media.

Regarding the electorate, to quote Winston Churchill; “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

I prefer Ron Brown (after losing an election); “The people have spoken; the bastards”.

@ All

I should add, for clarity, the opening sentences of the linked document.

“Over the last year or so, the government has developed and introduced
a suite of reforms to the public expenditure framework.These
reforms present challenges to those involved in public administration
insofar as they restructure long-standing approaches to public
financial reporting, but they also present opportunities for the
development of evidence-based policymaking.”

I have nothing against decisions being evidence based. Who could! But I have a near total antipathy to the word “policymaking” in an Irish context. Sweden runs a country of nine million people – very successfully – with a core civil service of less than 5,000. We need less people endlessly discussing policy and more involved in implementing it; once decided.

Good start. Make local councils responsible for funding water, roads, parks, street lights and culture out of a local property tax on all dwellings struck locally with a national fund to even it up.

Tull, I thing you might be misjudging me. I would make a bad politician. Hence I have no interest – other than being a contrarian critic. I do agree the ‘moralistic stuff’ is a turn-off. But its not irrelevant.

“I broke no law” is not equivalent to; “I left my principles and morals outside the door.” The first statement may indeed be true. But …!

“You are also 100% wrong about power lust of most pols”

Maybe. But you do need to separate the individual from his/her party. Tricky. Something along the lines of ‘group think’ – and all. In Ireland, the achieving of political power occupies the entire working life of our politicians. Without power you are a zero. A nieter – like me! 😎

Now, the problem we have is HOW that political power is actually exercised and HOW malfeasance and incompetence by legislators and public servants is exposed and properly punished. Its not rocket-science how these can be achieved. Just a significant resistance and unwillingness to go the distance, is all.

Our politicians need to stop their weasel words and verbal guff and start making uncomfortable and hard decisions – then put them into effect! And please: attend to the real, close adhesion between our political parties and our public service elites. Who is who? Which is which? Not easy to disentangle this symbotic relationship.

And, for what its worth – ? The most egregious excuse of them all. “It was a system failure”. It was in its glue!

Thanks for the responses to my post.

I wanted to solicit your views on the point regarding differences between FG/FF as it often seems a red herring to me. I don’t wish to be-labour the point as it would take the thread off-topic.

I appreciate the thought you put into your responses, particularly BSW and DOCM. There is even a reply from the post originator, whose original article in the indo impressed me and was what drew me to this post. There are 60+ comments posted here, which shows that there is a pretty high level of interest in this area (at least in this community).

I must also agree with Vinny that the quality of the comments this post has drawn are top-notch.

@ Brian Woods Snr and lots of others…

Huge insights and wisdom in the observations, comments and proposals.
Alas, ‘systemic issues’ will prevent implementation- despite the ‘burning economic and social platforms’ our State is on – ‘FTI’ will prevail – ‘failure to implement’ – the darling of the vested interest groups and the curse of this Island since ‘independence’….

Power is overcentralised in Ireland. Voters are treated like children. The so called elites are pretty mediocre by international standards. Give people political responsibility. It might change the way they see the state. It might even be an improvement on the current set up. Wouldn’t be too challenging.

Agree but not sure about the mediocrity of our elites. I suspect they are no worse than most. Give people political responsibility is a good idea. No body washes a hire car

@ tull

We have a tribe of rent-seekers and gatekeepers within and without the public service. In Mediocristan, what matters is not whether an idea is good, but who owns it. The only way forward is to empower people who have a more productive, co-operative approach, and to highlight the issues which the capturing/captured MSM prefer to obfuscate. Three cheers for theirisheconomy.ie

As for the hired car point, there are many types of ownership. The Germans mostly rent their houses, but I would guess they wash their floors as much as we do. They also know how to exercise properly local authority over their housing development and quality. Clientilist politics and lobbying has not served us at all well.

No responsibility without power, or, its logical corollary, no responsibility without power, seems to me to be a fair principle.

All politics is centralist to some degree. We the voters elect the pols to act in our interest. The parish pump brigade are honest blue collar merchants who want the govt to give them stuff with no consequence of what it means for others. The moralising, national interest keeners are exactly the same. They want the pork merchants out so more stuff can be transferred to them in the interest of society don’t you know. Give me the parish pump brigade every time. At least they are clear on where they are coming from and don’t lay the Irish Times editorial page on me.

@ Tull

I don’t think I will ever forget the week before the bailout and the performance of the FF top guns on RTE. It’s no coincidence either that Elderfield was brought in from out foreign. Sure the people are good but is the culture they operate in as good as elsewhere?

The legal system is a joke. There are so many protections citizens have elsewhere that do not exist in Ireland.

And then the junction between business and politics


“Apart from the recklessness, overconfidence and the total lack of professionalism, one sees clearly a lack of checks and balances not only within Anglo but within the country/ system as a whole,” he wrote in the letter that was read out in part to Anglo staff when he announced his resignation in February 2011.
“Parties were not dealing with one another at arm’s length, transactions were circular in nature, back to back and off market pricing. There was misrepresentation, market manipulation and market abuse.
“There was a green jersey agenda that, as so often is the case when nationalism is invoked, covered a multitude of sins. The rationale was made to fit the objective at the expense of guiding principles and truth.”
He argued that the government authorities were “stuck in their old ways” and did not “recognise nor understand conflicts of interest”.

Here is one for old times sake

@ Tull: ” … and don’t lay the Irish Times editorial page on me.”


” …who want the govt to give them stuff with no consequence of what it means for others.”

When, if ever, has a national politician, seeking re-election, actually presented a valid costing (in terms of extra taxation) analysis of their election promises? Never – except to throw verbal slurry over the opponents promises. Just think back to the last so-called leader’s debates. Pathetic garbage. And contrary opinion from the outside is promptly side-tracked by the dictator-in-charge. We have a very ill-informed (about how a modern economy works – or more likely does not work) electorate. Worse, there appears to be no mass media attempt to so inform them. I’m not asserting any deliberate attempt to keep them in the dark (a Mushroom Policy) – that would require a tad more intelligence than I observe being deployed.

If Sean and Maire citizen actually understood how they were being continuously ‘jerked off’ in terms of squandered taxes and sh*tty services – there might be some hope of reasonable governance at the national level. As for our Local government: it is just an obscene mess.

As a matter of interest. Since I know that no economic reform is imminent – never mind even being contemplated. Why am I, and others, concerned? There is no substantive, open, public discourse that I can observe about of our failing Permagrowth (capitalist) economic paradigm which has served the few well, but the many badly. And looks set to get even worse. Do we have to have a genuine social/economic meltdown before prompt remediation is attempted?

Folk need a basic, mandatory income to survive in a consumer society. If the only avenue to that basic income is via waged-labour employments – then when (not if) the incomes of the majority falter – expect trouble. Wishful IMF assertions will not create a single, sustainable employment.

There are a number of well-known economists (apart from David McW) around. There are some very influential blogs. So why no real, extended discourse on the Permagrowth paradigm? I know some economists do understand the failings of this paradigm – but the majority seem quite ignorant about it – and its inevitable, unwanted, unsocial consequences. There is an alternative Irish economic site – TASC; which is a veritable mausoleum. Deliberately so, it would appear. Why? Cowardice? Laziness? Ignorance? Intellectual arrogance? Who knows.

Our politicians do not wish to be informed. The electorate cannot be informed. So? That is not a pretty picture, looking forward, as they say.

“If Sean and Maire citizen actually understood how they were being continuously ‘jerked off’ in terms of squandered taxes and sh*tty services – there might be some hope of reasonable governance at the national level. ”

Or even how citizens are treated in other OECD countries.
But all you’ll hear on RTE is what a great little country it is.

@ tull

The IT is what it is. A bit of social conscience but heavily in thrall to the consumer ethic, wedded to a fairly comfortable institutional status quo, and so not really keen to lift the lid on vested interests. You don’t really bite the hand that feeds you, especially when you have debt burdens and pension liabilities.

As to what the national interest is these days, well that seems to me to be a rather open question, for which more evidence needs to be gathered.

The national interest is self defined. Any clarion call on the govt to change tack on rents, fees, rules, debt writedown always involves doing something that benefits me over him over there. It is usually cloaked with a spurious cost benefit analysis that proves society wins if I win over you. It is fundamentally dishonest.
At least the ward bosses are honest. They are upfront about pillaging the public purse in favour of the parish.

@ PQ

don’t forget RTE


Channel-hopping offers explosive time and space perspective
Newton Emerson

BBC News
We interrupt our report on wheelchair access at job centres to bring you some breaking news. Astronomers at Britain’s Jodrell Bank observatory have detected an asteroid on a collision course with Earth. Initial projections suggest it will strike the Republic of Ireland in approximately 15 minutes.

RTÉ News
We interrupt our report on a cat stuck up a tree in Cabinteely to bring you some breaking news. The BBC is reporting a serious problem with wheelchair access at job centres. More on Six-One, but, meanwhile, back to Cabinteely.

BBC News
We have an update on that developing asteroid story, by which we mean the story is developing, not the asteroid. Astronomers confirm it will strike the Republic of Ireland in 13 minutes, causing widespread devastation. Shock waves are expected across Europe and EU leaders are meeting now in emergency session.

RTÉ News
And I’m sure we’re all delighted to see Tiddles safely back on the ground. In other news, Government sources have reacted angrily to reports in London of an “astronomical problem” threatening Ireland.
The British media has a long history of anti-Irish reporting, as you can see from this 1865 cartoon of Mr Punch dropping a rock on “Poor Paddy”.

BBC News
Further details on that asteroid. Jodrell Bank says it is five miles wide, travelling at 20,000mph and will hit Dublin in 10 minutes.
Scientists warn this is an “existential threat” to the Republic of Ireland, while linguists warn that “existential” should not be used as an adjective for “existence”.

RTÉ News
The Government is denying reports of an existential threat to Ireland or a threat to the existence of Ireland. RTÉ understands that several alarming statistics circulating in London have come from a British bank, which may well have its own reasons for speculating on Dublin’s future.

BBC News
As the so-called “Paddy’s Rock” passes lunar orbit, EU leaders have urged the Irish Government to recognise the gravity of the situation and seek urgent help.

RTÉ News
Government sources confirm they have spoken to EU leaders about an urgent situation, but only to complain that talk of “gravity” is not helping.

BBC News
With impact now minutes away, survival experts advise people to dig a hole in the softest ground available. Fortunately the Irish are good at digging holes in soft ground, as you can see from this 1865 cartoon of Mr Punch “watching Paddy stick his head in the bog”.

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We interrupt these scurrilous rumours to bring you truly earth-shattering news. A man with a beard is moving from Belfast to Dundalk to look for work. Central Bank sources say this proves the recession is over.

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Our correspondent in Ireland reports that a shadow has now fallen over the whole country and people are fleeing the affected area, except for one man with a beard who appears to be fleeing in the opposite direction.

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In an exclusive angry phone call to our newsroom, a Government press officer has confirmed that he can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The light has appeared in the sky directly over Dublin, where it is glowing bright red and getting larger and larger by the . . .

Back to Frank Barry’s original point: TK Whitaker was given permission to have ‘Economic Development’ published under his own name.

He became publicly associated with the new economic departure and what is striking is how craven senior public staff have been in the past half-century given his precedent.

Two monumental periods of economic misgovernance since and nobody dared shout stop in public.

It’s a shameful record of cowardice.

It would make a difference if individuals who may be much more versed than ministers on particular policies felt able to go beyond official talking points.

Ministers have been twittering about income tax this week, motivated by party concerns.

A cross could be put on the mantelpiece, if there was for example a spin-free debate on long-term jobs strategy.

TK Whitaker was of course the one who said “The greatest fault lies in pursuing a policy after it has proven to be unsuitable or ineffective”.

But as Beckett observed

“This tired, abstract anger –inarticulate passive opposition –always the same thing in Dublin. “

MH +1
Re cowardice at top echelons of public service not being willing to publicly challenge pursued policies where damaging to long term national interests.

I think it is a legacy of the Haughey-era of “governance” and the result of the capture of the PS from this era. I think it was Bruce Arnold some time ago who wrote in the Indo about the climate of fear operative around 1982 and the tapping of phones. It is likely that that fear was multiplied the closer your proximity to the source. Perhaps the rot set in at a much earlier date, I’m open to arguments on this score. However, the fact that the country has had to endure two seismic crises since this time suggests to me that something fundamental shifted in the way the country was governed from then.

Also, do not misunderstand that I am placing the entirety of the blame on Haughey. There were plenty of enablers and emulators of the man, at the time and since. It’s more of a reference point than the positing of all ills to a single individual.

To my mind, DOCM’s post of 17 jun 12.37 has indicated the key reform required to redress this situation. A clear separation of responsibility between SMT of the PS and the minister, with minister bearing ultimate responsibility. Management responsibility being dealt with via the appropriate mgt systems. When we have had a number similar accountability examples as have occurred in the UK, then we can begin to build up some confidence that our elected representatives are becoming PUBLIC (sorry, don’t know how to do italics on an iPad) representatives again.

In my opinion, this is the precursor required to start the reform process. From there you then apply the appropriate mgt systems rigorously addressing incompetence in the post as found.

The caveat I make in this regard is that cognisance needs to be taken of the risk that individual ministers will be targeted by vested interests threatened by proposed reforms, especially (but not limited to) the areas of health, education and justice. We have sufficient examples of departments briefing against ministers and other high profile office holders (e.g. PAC) for this risk to be obvious.

This is an economics site and whist I cannot expect each principal or commentator to be aufait with every aspect of current economics, I do expect at least a few would be – especially about the different causal factors which got us into this unholy mess.

“The caveat I make in this regard is that cognisance needs to be taken of the risk that individual ministers will be targeted by vested interests threatened by proposed reforms, …”

Its not even reforms, but day-to-day state spending. Do vested interests actually believe that the money the state pays out is some sort of miraculous conception? Do they not understand that its out of current (and future) taxpayers incomes and consumption taxes that the funds must come from? If the government was constitutionally mandated to only spend what was actually garnered in current taxation, then some of our real difficulties would not arise.

But its not, hence ministers are subjected to both private and public pressures, from party colleagues, opposition deputies, interest groups and outrageous, ill-informed and biased media commentary. The government could, if it was so moved, slam this door shut – permanently! Why not?

The government could also legislate (quite easily) for anyone on the list above wishing to lobby a minister, to place their tax-funded proposals to PAC. And face withering questioning about how the funding they are demanding will be found. Deputies would be prohibited from having a face-to-face meeting with a minister. Do it publically – in the chamber or the committee room or face a prompt, stiff sanction. I believe its known as adult behaviour.

“Follow the money”

@ newbie

I know the feelings which cause Michael H to accuse senior public servants of cowardice. They are feelings of extreme frustration, and I am sure they are widespread. So much talent and goodwill is being left to rot these days, but we have to look somehow for the ideas which can lead us all to a better place. The solutions are to be found in all sorts of places, including our New Communities, and also among our neighbours in the north, from whom we are still painfully divided.

The trouble with labelling people is that they go into defensive mode. We need all our public servants to produce, and to think critically. That’s what Whittaker did. If there are internal barriers to change, they need to be challenged vigorously. It’s a time of crisis. Disciplinary action is a lesser hazard than passively letting the ship of state sail onto the rocks of sovereign default. Bust banks will bust the exchequer, and the competent will be laid off along with the competent, so ‘eirigh as’.

I think you are right about Haughey. He was a cipher for a certain way of doing things, but it was not really about him, more about the golden circles, and the complicated fields of influence and back scratching which characterises that style of governing. Others can comment more expertly, but my sense is that Haughey led us toward the Market State. He saw that sovereignty was something which could be parlayed for gain, and there were percentages on every deal. It wasn’t all bad, but it was corrosive to democracy. The north loomed large at that time too.

We are all dfferent. Rather than focussing on courage or the absence of it, maybe we neied to take a good look at our national habit of ‘doing the safe thing’. IMHO, that’s one of the things that has us in the mess we are in. Property was always the safe bet. The professions were safe. Public sector employment was safe. Third level education was safe. Bank shares were really safe. After all that, where is the safety, or the security, for the rising generation ?

This post and thread concerns the lessons that can be drawn from the approach adopted in 1950s to economic development and our current situation (Peter Barry: feel free to correct me if I’m mistaken). One of the key points I picked up from the original article was that there seemed to be a competition of ideas in the 50s between the various departments (i.e. not group think) about the wisdom of taking economic policy in particular directions and the establishment of the IDA.

The point I wished to add to the discussion in my comment (not clearly enough) was that for a substantial period of time between the 1950s and now we had a very different political class (concentrated in 1 political party in particular) from that which operated in the 50s with a very different management style, shall we say.

As far as I know, there was no reckoning politically for the crisis of the 80s. (Sure, we had plenty of political crises over that period, but no party was wiped out as FG was in the 2002 general election, or as FF suffered in the 2011 election). Therefore, I still consider that this legacy has yet to be addressed.

The addressing of that legacy was the point of my comment. I wasn’t and am not now suggesting that this explains our current predicament. In fact, I don’t attempt to address this point at all.

Paul Quigley:
My apologies for tarring all PS SMT with same brush. That was careless of me. I should have dealt in specificities. I do think that there were particular instances of professional cowardice – e.g those reported instances in the DoF where senior managers forced certain warnings to be excised from documents and isolated such colleagues.

Your point about the so-called MSM in Ireland was precisely my own, and was the reason I included the caveat. Sure politics is a dirty business and only adults should participate, but I also think that the general public can be influenced by such stuff and that can have serious political consequences. Reading between the lines or interpreting agendas behind MSM articles is not something that people do well in Ireland, IMHO.

@ Newbie: Thanks for the thoughtful comments. Little to disagree with – maybe some petty detail is all. Very tricky to hold politicians’ feet to the fire.

Parliamentary party politics began to change significantly after 1973, and reached a nadir in late 1980s. Knocking FF or FG ‘off their perch’ still leaves one. And since both are snugged up to the public service elites – no change (real change) is probable. Well, there may be different personnel and a different set of sports gear.

Thanks again.

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