Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Lisbon Betrayal Underlines Need for New Political Force

If the future survival of this tottering and absurd Fianna Fail-Green Party regime is to depend on the 'new programme for government' then God help us all. What has been cooked up between the negotiators is no more than a fig leaf engendered in a political hothouse of panic. The Greens should reject it and face the reality of the mistake they have made. They will earn more respect for that than for sustaining an administration that can get nothing right.

It is mired in the inequities of its own inaction and is using the worn-out device of further promises that stretch into the future. They also stretch into the recent past, under Brian Cowen, whose leadership has produced no legislation of substance. Instead, he has created profuse advice from bodies set up to consider what the Government should do about tax and cuts and other relatively easy issues that are not being addressed.

Solving these is what government is about. This one, with its years of familiarity with the system and with the mathematics of running the State, has no need of the advice it is constantly seeking. Yet it goes on setting up bodies and appointing individuals, at huge expense

This approach is endemic. It stretches far further back, to Bertie Ahern's laissez-faire approach to change and reform, entirely without legislative rigour. He put in place a deeply flawed ethics regime. It was a foundation for the outrageous expenses regime in the Dail. Brian Lenihan has tried to dismiss this as marginal to the present crisis. Yet he was there before the crisis. Why did he not resolve it in a clear and emphatic way when first in Finance?

He shared in the recent zeal for discussing reforms in public service. But it was discussion, not action, he wanted. His pending tray includes the dissolution of the extravagantly expensive agencies costing billions, and set up over the past 10 years. They make redundant civil servants who did the job for a fraction of the cost, and who now get a large slice of taxpayers' money for watching others do their work.

Though I share, with hundreds of thousands of people, a desire for change, I am far from happy with the alternative. Fine Gael, under Enda Kenny, and Eamon Gilmore's Labour Party do not offer a confidence-building alternative.

I lost confidence in both parties during the recent referendum campaign. They did not give good opposition. They mouthed instead the same lies and distortions that undermined the truth and integrity of the disenfranchised 'No' voters. Not all of those voters were either truthful or inspired by integrity. However, large numbers were. They had to witness the collective absurdity and nonsense of the two parties in power and the two main opposition parties all mixing fearful threats and impossible promises over the Lisbon Treaty.

Out of that came a political vacuum occupied by at least half a million people whose numbers will be reinforced as the offers under the Lisbon Treaty prove false.

I want to spend the second half of this article exploring the hazards that have been created, together with the opportunities. And at the heart of what I say there is the need for a new political force that can address these, since clearly, on their performance during the past few months, the existing parties cannot do it. This then is an embryonic manifesto.

At its immediate heart is the need, explicit in the Lisbon Treaty, that the politicians whom we elect to protect our sovereignty and our interests, adopt a clear, hard line on the way Europe will now operate. On this there is the democratic requirement that people should only be led and governed by those having their consent. A substantial number, in this vital area, no longer give their consent. Europe has paid lip-service in the treaty to this process, denying that anything is wrong, but it surely is.

The record within the Dail and Seanad is a poor one in controlling or monitoring anything at all. This has to change, and monitoring Europe is a serious and central challenge to the system. I cannot see Enda Kenny or Eamon Gilmore even recognising the need for this, when they supported in so blatant and ignorant a way the 'Yes' side in the recent past. Few enough politicians recognise the need for domestic sovereign restraints in the future to protect our interests. Certainly, those in power within Fianna Fail who engaged in this process of protecting Ireland made a demonstrably pathetic mess of it in shaping the Lisbon concept, in its previous forms, and more recently in negotiating the protocols. They sold this lavishly, but dishonestly, to the public as a big achievement.

I want a fair, even-handed, Christian, conservative, truthful, transparent approach to the government of the country. I have already recommended a fourth force and do so again. This has to be committed to Europe, responding to the people's wish. But it needs to be maturely pro-European in both its disposition and its actions. I want this force to favour low taxes, the strict regulation of public expenses and pay, a much leaner regime for politicians and ministers, the dissolution of the gravy-train of state agencies or quangos -- where directors, chairmen of boards, board members and staff live the life of Reilly in a wild abuse of our natural state of wealth and prospects. The cost is counted in billions.

I want the public service restored to being just that -- paid properly but not overpaid -- committed to their duties and their rights and to the rights of everyone else as well. The principle of service has to be added to truthfulness and transparency.

Europe is not going to help us in this. We will do it on our own. And we should do it through our elected representatives and not through the slow and ponderous mechanism of commissions and advisers. We did not elect John O'Donoghue to surround himself with a team of helpers, highly paid by us, to let him make mistakes. And we did not elect him to shift blame elsewhere. We have funny reasons for electing people, but they will look less funny at the dissolution of this Dail. I hope it comes soon.