Enda’s Damascene moment in Dublin

Enda’s attempt to improve his image – too little, too late?

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Like most Irish people, I enjoy complaining about the Late Late Show almost as much as I secretly enjoy watching it.

As the world’s longest-running talkshow and for a long time (along with Liveline) Ireland’s only forum for public debate it, much is demanded of it.

Last night it delivered, a triumph for public-service broadcasting but an appalling indictment of our politics.

In time, the breezy throw-away slot of a selection of puppets singing a charity version of “We All Stand Together” will drip with bitter irony for media and political historians.

An irreverent puppet-turkey, judged by many analysts to to be be more qualified to run the country than the current incumbent, blithely told us that Childline needed our money to stay open and provide an essential service to those failed and abandoned in our country – our children.

Almost a hundred years in, and we still cannot manage to carry out even the most basic functions of a democratic state without having to go on national TV and beg.

It got better.

That section was wedged in somewhere between Brendan O’Carroll and Mrs. Brown and the discussion on homelessness before Olly Murs played his new single.

It was a perfect example of the peculiar brilliance of the Late Late show – it effortlessly combines utter banality with topics of the utmost seriousness.

The discussion on homelessness began with Christy Burke, Dublin’s lord mayor, recounting how he and the Irish prime minister had walked the streets of Dublin late at night to see for themselves what the situation was like.

Much was made about how shocked the Irish premier was by the needles, the conditions, the sheer scale of the problem, and yet no-one asked why.

After all, he put many of them there.

39 years have passed since Enda Kenny first entered Leinster House, through a gate just around the corner from where Jonathan Corrie died this week, and until this week, Enda Kenny – father of the Dáil and leader of the nation – had never noticed the problem of homelessness in the city.

And in a country governed by spin, where a recent opinion poll shows that every established party is on its knees with the electorate, it is hard not to be cynical about why it is at this very moment – a few weeks before Christmas, with his party’s popularity in the doldrums – he is finally venturing on to the streets.

You may think that harsh, until you think about what he spent the rest of the week doing – gadding about with the gays in Pantibar, desperately trying to win back a few votes that his unthinking, unquestioning Christian fundamentalist party now need more than ever.

Next week, Kenny faces the prospect of losing control of the country entirely as anti-water charge protestors take to the streets on December 10, angered over another tax used to fund an already criminal waste of taxpayers’ money.

What has this got to do with homelessness and Childline?

A lot.

The €500 million spent on setting up Irish Water could have been used for better things – for instance, it could have housed Dublin’s approximately 170 rough sleepers in the Shelbourne hotel.

For 40 years.

It would be enough to fund the Simon Community to provide a bed, food and a Christmas gift to homeless people.

Ten million of them.

It could have been used to fund essential services for children – the innocent and ignored victims of many addictions – and for those who look after them that struggle day to day.

But no. Enda will limp along, together with the rest of his colleagues so shocked and disturbed at the all-too-regular occurrence of a man dying on the street, and busy himself doing nothing of substance while trying not to lose face over Irish Water.

In doing so he will spend more millions – many of them going to dubious businesses people previously caught with their hands in the national cooke jars – on meters that won’t be used and spin doctors to explain why.

But to make a real change in Irish politics in the little time he has left, it would require a change of heart that would put Saint Paul’s fall on the road to Damascus in the ha’penny place.

It would require the abandonment of the cronyism and culture of backhanders and back-scratching that has served Enda, the professional political class and their masters so well.

It would require the realisation that society’s first priority should be to protect its weakest members.

It would require Enda Kenny to realise that his entire political career to this point has been an inauspicious waste of time, and for him to set about righting 39 years of wrongful indifference to those who have funded his largesse.

For this government, it’s too late.

But for Enda, who I’m sure is a decent man, it isn’t.

Taoiseach at a time when it didn’t matter, his only real chance at a political legacy is to finally begin to address the innate inequalities that perpetuate Ireland’s status as a failed state.

TO hold up his hand and say “we got it wrong. Time to start anew.”

Maybe Dustin might start the process by sending him a download of “We All Stand Together”.

Welfare tourism a one-way ticket for a go on the spin machine

Joan Burton – sign on, check in, fly out.

One of the only classes I vividly remember from secondary school was a civics class, when the teacher taught us how to read a newspaper.

Properly. Critically. Without fear or favour.

It is probably the only lesson that I learned in my five years there that I felt was any use – but it’s not a bad one, considering it has enabled me to make a living.

I thought of that this morning when I read the latest Irish Times puff piece backing up Joan Burton and her soft-focus attempt to come across as some sort of benign Irish Thatcher as she cracks down on “welfare tourism.”

In this process she is often aided by journalists and readers who fail to cast a critical eye over her claims that it is welfare recipients, and not her moneyed masters, that represent the greatest threat to Irish society – if they did, she would be instantly revealed to be spinning. Again.

The article is breathless in its promise, giving us a statistic that “one case has been detected every four days.”

It then goes on to produce Burton’s most fantastic, and transparently made-up, claim.

Welfare inspectors at ports and airports discovered 122 cases in the past 18 months, saving the State €1.35m as a result, Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said.

Firstly, “discovering” one case every four days is entirely irrelevant, as you’ll soon find out.

And the €1.35 million in savings is based on “estimates (of) future payments the welfare recipients would have received if they were not detected,” according to the Department.

That is to say – in Anglo parlance – that the Department “pulled the figure out of their arse.” They stuck their finger in the air and put 122 cases together, and came up with €1.35 million out of nowhere.

By this point most readers would have headed on over to theJournal.ie to engage in a flurry of comments about ne’er-do-wells too lazy to work.

A shame, because if they read further they’d discover that the 122 cases led to a whopping FIVE prosecutions.

And the concrete, non-pulled-out-of-the-arse figure for money recovered by the state? €54,000, or an average of around €11,000, give or take a claimable ministerial expense.

That can hardly be a sum Burton considers huge, given that she pays her “special adviser” €35,796 (or the tangible equivalent of three fraudulent social welfare claims) as a top-up to the €92,000 they are supposedly restricted to.

(For the record, the bank bailout will arguably end up costing each Irish citizen around €16,500. Maybe Joanie’s cronies would have been better off dispensing with the clipboard and waiting for the Troika with a baseball bat in the arrivals hall instead.)

There is a widespread belief, fostered by successive governments, that Ireland’s real enemies are the handful of crooks (and the fact that there have been only five prosecutions shows it’s truly a handful) that check in, sign on and fly out.

But those doing the real damage are those who fly into Ireland with a laptop bag, not a holdall.

For all their talk about “the most vulnerable,” Joan and the rest of the Labour Party insist on demonising welfare recipients – many of them put in that situation thanks to Burton’s government and its myopic insistence on continuing with their austerity fetish.

Having been constantly cowed, they do what any supplicant does in a corporate culture – kiss upwards and kick downwards. Their journey to the dark side is complete.

But rather than standing at the airport trying to save the odd ten grand (and at what cost?), Joan might spend a day or two at the departure gates this Christmas, apologising to all those forced to leave because of the ineptitude of her, her party and her government.

In Ireland, nothing lies like numbers, but most of the time they can’t even get them right.