By Patrick Brogan
A year on from Leo Varadkar’s ascent to the office of Taoiseach, is Ireland any better off?
In May of last year, I wrote two editorials about the candidates for Taoiseach. The one on Simon Coveney was hardly a glowing reference, but I did mention that he had some good qualities, especially when compared to his opponent; Leo Varadkar. I was criticised (especially for the “clickbait title”), but from what I’ve seen and heard since, nothing has changed my mind about this.
To illustrate the point, I’m going to write about Welsh rugby. No, seriously. Rugby has a special place in the heart of Welsh society. Rugby is not just a sport in the Valleys, it’s a way of life. In many ways, the sport helps define Wales as a nation in much the same way it does for New Zealand and the Afrikaners in South Africa. Part of the reason for this is that when Wales is doing well economically the national team thrives. This makes sense when you consider it was an amateur sport until the 1990s. So, emigration had a huge impact.
When talking about Welsh rugby you have the mention the great team of the 70s. One of the greatest of them all. The names of JPR Williams, Barry John, Mervyn and Gerald Davies and Phil Bennett still echo throughout the rugby world, and there’s the daddy of them all; Gareth Edwards. They were hugely successful and dominated Northern Hemisphere rugby. New Zealand fans love to point out that the All Blacks beat them the two times they met in the 1970s.
That Welsh team is remembered because they caught the imagination, not because they won all their games. They have that in common with the Dutch soccer team of the same era with their Total Football. As the icon of that team Johan Cruyff points out, that Dutch team lost two world cup finals, but it his team that people still talk about. The Welsh in their red jersey. Beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Blood red. Welsh blood. The flair, the passion, the soul. This was rugby as art, make no mistake. While many people detest sport and see it as too commercial it can also be an expression of the human soul. And the soul is often a beautiful thing.
The Iron Lady
That’s why rugby is so important to the Welsh. It was theirs, something they created. And it was beautiful. The oval ball is part of their identity and it set them apart, especially from their larger neighbour to the East. However, they could not separate themselves politically. And along came Maggie Thatcher and closed the mines. The impact this had on the Principality was massive and many parts still haven’t recovered from it. As the national team was depending amateurs for players, it also took a nose dive.
This is the problem with people like Thatcher. They see countries solely as economies. Most of us see it as so much more. Thatcher and her ilk are different though. They are soulless and lack any imagination. And this is where King Leo comes in.
A few years back, he said he would pursue policies that would make the Iron Lady blush. The woman that ripped the heart out of Wales and the North of England. Two areas that voted in favour of leaving the European Union, which I will get into more later.
The Early Risers
Varadkar set the tone early on when he said he would represent the early risers. Now, at the time there some stupid comments about people working late-night shifts. Clearly what he meant was he was going to represent those that are in employment. This was a dog whistle. He was going after the ‘poor’ because, well, they were poor. He is trying to bully them out of their economic burdens without offering a practical solution to it. Or, maybe he wants them to commit suicide? It would bring down the unemployment rate, after all.
This fiscal conservatism and a decade of austerity measures sucked the money out of the economy. No wonder there is unemployment. Many people cannot actually work due to physical illness. What is he doing about this or the infirmed in general? The healthcare system in Ireland is a shambles. While it has been this way for a long time, it reached epic new lows, or highs depending on how you view the figures, under his stewardship. Homelessness, particularly amongst families, has also reached emergency levels. These are not Leo’s core voters, so he doesn’t care.
We know he is not offering solutions, so what has he concentrated his time on? Spin. Wearing novelty socks for Canada’s Justin Trudeau. Check out his blooper reel for his weekly videos on Twitter. Playing the fiddle while Dublin burns.
This is probably the most worrying example of spin we have seen in this country. Many local newspapers were paid by the Government to run advertorials. This is something I don’t agree with newspapers doing, but for those that are struggling financially, I can see why they would do it. However, there are standards in place and advertorials have to be clearly marked. The articles relating to the Ireland 2040 national infrastructure plan were not marked as such and neither were the Creative Ireland, the Government’s cultural programme, articles. This has been described as propaganda. As part of the fallout, the Government’s Strategic Communications Unit is to be wound down by this month. More on that can be read here. His seeming obsession for the gym is really indicative of his role as Taoiseach. He is more concerned about image than actually doing anything. Why should this matter though?
A few months back, I attended a meeting run by social workers. They spoke about how the major issues of today, like children being forced to live out of hotel rooms, will come back to haunt us further down the line. 15-20 years from now, we will have a generation of angry people because the state has failed them. While it is tempting to say that everyone is free to do what they like and people struggling financially are the result of their own decisions, that is far from the reality.
The UK tabloids have had a go at the Taoiseach over the last few days. They don’t seem to realise that it is the ideology he follows that has led to this mess. The North of England and Wales were the worst hit by Thatcher’s carelessness. They also voted pro-Brexit. Why? Because economic hardship leads to anger. In places like Yorkshire, EU funding is hugely important and their economy could not function without it. Westminster doesn’t seem to hold anywhere outside of London with any significance. Yet, the people that live in Yorkshire voted against the EU, and the important grants they receive, and voted to give Westminister more power over their lives. Unless something dramatically changes, they have just decided they will make life more difficult for themselves. When struggling with poverty, all logic goes out the window.
Then there is the migration argument. The EU created laws designed to make it difficult for people from other countries to migrate just to claim welfare. For example, when entering Britain, the migrant has to prove they have a job lined-up and money for at least three months accommodation with them. It was the UK that did not enforce this. I’m not exactly pro-EU, but those are the facts.
The US is in a similar position. Many farmers’ income were devasted by the policies of Ronald Reagan. Most rural parts of the US have been suffering since, with massive suicide rates. Many of these people voted for Trump. Now his trade wars are having a hugely negative impact on their livelihoods and at this rate, many businesses are going to fold. His actions can hardly come as a shock. He has been threatening a trade war with China for years now. What did they think would happen?
This is what has happened time and again. People suffer economically and turn to the one set of people that will actually make their situation worse. In Ireland, we have seen something similar. Fianna Fáil caused the crash and implemented austerity measures. Fine Gael continued them. We are told the economy has turned around and is doing well. Why am I seeing more beggars on the streets then?
In this country, we are lucky. Far-right extremism has never really caught hold. However, the conditions now are ripe for such an event to take place. The likes of Pegida have sought to set-up chapters in Ireland and parties like Identity Ireland want to implicate migration for the financial crash of the last decade when it was clearly a corrupted financial sector and their buddies in parliament protecting them that caused it.
Politics needs to change. Politics is ruined by politicians. Discussing ideas is fine, but very soon politicians, the media and the public get caught up in puerile issues that actually have no real impact while the important stuff is missed. Politics, as it stands, is about winning. It’s about defeating your opponent and proving their ideas wrong. Who does this benefit though? Certainly not society. Politicians and the corporations that bankroll them need to have their influence in society radically reduced, particularly the soulless Varadkar, Murphy et al.
The Left-Right argument has been done to death and what has it really achieved? Most of humanity’s great ideas came from individuals or small groups, not from Left or Right-wing politicians. The time for a change is now, otherwise, who knows where we will end up?
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