The year of Big Hats,Courage, Cronyism & public protest

The year of Big Hats,Courage, Cronyism & public protest

The year of big hats, courage, cronyism and public protest
2014 was a year of farce and serious conflict, writes Gene Kerrigan. And finally the public's patience snapped.

Gene Kerrigan


So, it's last summer, and I'm trying to explain the Garth Brooks affair to someone who's been out of the country for a while.

"So", says she, "there's this fat little chap in a big hat, and he wants to play more concerts than he has a licence to hold?"

Well, I said, it's a bit more complicated...

"And you're telling me that Fianna Fail are actually drawing up emergency legislation so he can get what he wants?"

Em, yeah.

"This is a joke, right? The government is taking medical cards away from terminally ill people, and politicians are getting upset because a chap in a big hat isn't getting everything he wants? The Shinners must be reefing the lot of them for this."

Well, Sinn Fein are backing Garth. They think...

"The Shinners are what?"

But, there's hope - the Lord Mayor has asked Obama to intervene, so...

"Obama? Christy Burke asked Obama to intervene?"

Eh, yeah. And there's talk that Christy might get the Mexican ambassador involved.

"The Mexican ambassador?"

It's just a suggestion. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport and Communications might be able to reach some...

"An Oireachtas committee?"

Yes, they went into emergency session. They're grilling the Chief Executive of Dublin City Council.

"Ah, here" says she. "Tell me Enda Kenny isn't grovelling in front of that fat..."

The Taoiseach says he'll make himself available if Mr Garth thinks it would be helpful.

"What you're telling me is the entire Irish establishment has gone stark, staring mad, right?"

Well, I said, it kind of escalated...

And, looking back, it seemed for a time as though nothing mattered more to anyone on the island. A millionaire singer couldn't get permission to hold five concerts - so he reneged on an agreement with hundreds of thousands of fans who bought tickets to three concerts. And we allowed the establishment to prostrate itself before him in supplication.

But, there were more significant straws in the wind.

People had begun to realise that a lot of very fat cats have been creaming it throughout the recession. There wasn't enough money to run the hospitals properly, but executives got bonuses on top of their bonuses.

Even the folks running the charity business were coining it. Remember the lad who was on €106,000 a year, but the board "topped-up" his salary by another €136,000 a year?

And when he retired they gave him €200,000 to remember them by, plus another €273,336 for old times' sake.

And all this was on top of his €98,000 a year pension.

Then someone noticed that if he'd been on a different kind of pension he'd have got even more. So, they upped his pension to €110,000 a year.

Anger simmered, as it became clear that the elite get whatever they want.

The Garda Commissioner assured us that his senior officers had investigated allegations about the wiping of penalty points, and there was nothing to worry about.

At which point it turned out that A), there was plenty to worry about, as senior officers continued wiping penalty points on questionable grounds. And, B), that wiping penalty points wasn't the only questionable stuff going on within the force.

Remember those rightwing political folk who loudly trumpet their heartfelt support for law and order? They suddenly decided that law and order is no big deal. In the face of very serious circumstances, they did bugger all.

It was left to Mick Wallace, Clare Daly, Ming Flanagan and Joan Collins to rescue the Dail from total irrelevance at a time when some very troubling things were happening.

There was that amazing moment when Alan Shatter, Minister for Justice, went on Prime Time and retailed a bit of silly gossip about Mick Wallace, which we later learned was told to him by none other than the Garda Commissioner.

And when there was suspicion of someone bugging GSOC, what mattered to Enda Kenny was not a breach of security but the fact that GSOC itself had allegedly breached the law.

GSOC, Mr Kenny told us, had breached "Section 80, subsection 5, of the Garda Siochana Act". He was quite angry about it.

Then, some of us realised that the Taoiseach was quoting a non-existent piece of legislation. At that point, it was like these people could get away with anything. More and more people were becoming uneasy. Within a relatively short time the Minister and the Commissioner were history.

Things might have gone - I'm being careful with my words, here - in a certain direction, had we not had gardai with the courage of Maurice McCabe and John Wilson. They were trashed by the Garda hierarchy but they didn't back down.

They might have been quashed had we not had people in the Dail of the quality of Wallace, Daly, Flanagan and Collins.

It's worth remembering that both Wallace and Flanagan were publicly smeared, using confidential Garda information.

And Daly was arrested by the side of the road, handcuffed and taken to a police station - and someone leaked all this to the media, which gleefully reported that she'd been hauled in for drunk driving.

How unfortunate for the glee merchants when the results came back and it turned out that Daly had been even more sober than the average judge.

The scandalous treatment of asylum-seekers continued, as did the contempt displayed to economic migrants trying to better themselves in this country.

At the same time we continued to proclaim that our own economic migrants, trying to better themselves in the USA, are entitled to gentler treatment than we mete out to those asking us for a hand up.

Enda Kenny, the County Councillor now holding the office of Taoiseach, was caught pulling a stroke, using a public appointment to try to boost the CV of a crony he wanted to get into the Seanad.

The contempt for citizens was plain in the "apology" he offered: "I take responsibility for this having evolved to what people might imagine it is."

In short, it wasn't his fault. He was apologising for allowing us to maliciously let our imagination run away with us. Such twisted language is now common, as leaders seek to find forms of words that at the same time say something and nothing.

Asked if Labour might go into coalition with Sinn Fein, Joan Burton said it's "almost certainly unlikely".

Finally, after the Household Charge, the Local Property Tax, the increased tuition fees, the income levy, the raises in DIRT and VAT and Carbon Tax and Motor Tax - and all the many, many cuts - the Austerity Hawks dreamt up the New Funding Model for Water.

And public patience snapped.

Weekend marches brought out 100,000, then 150,000. Subsequently, people who consider themselves serious journalists tried to claim that a midweek rally, a fortnight before Christmas, was a flop, because over 50,000 people turned up.

The anti-Water Tax people were portrayed as equivalent to Islamic terrorists who behead people, and Nazi totalitarians who exterminated millions.

As the weeks went by it became clear that nothing the Water Tax hawks said could be taken seriously.

It even turned out that Irish Water - the private sector template taking over from those fuddy-duddy local government hacks - spent less on infrastructure than the old guys.

Yet spent hundreds of millions on meters. But, of course, the meters were necessary so they could identify leaks. Then it turned out they've fixed far fewer leaks than the old local government set-up.

And all through the year, quietly, the money flowed out to the bondholders. And down in Ballyhea the noble marchers just as quietly kept the candle of sanity burning, as they reached their 200th week of protest.
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