“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Thomas Jefferson.
The recent poll in the Irish Times (here) provides an interesting link into what has gone wrong in Ireland in recent years. The facts revealed are one thing, in that may Irish voters are just plain wrong about many of the assumptions they make about their own country. But what’s even more revealing about this is the fact that the political establishment, from Fianna Fail to Fine Gael to Labour, seem incapable of grasping the significance of this. The reality is that there are Fine Gael and Labour backbench TDs who are going to lose their seats in 2016 because voters are actually wrong about the fundamentals of how our country is run. There are voters who think that those same TDs are basically helping themselves personally to funds equal to billions! Yet those same TDs are seemingly unwilling to confront that reality. And not just backbench TDs: just look at the government’s lacklustre response to Eoghan Murphy TD’s Tax Transparency bill, which would have addressed some of the issues.
Why is this? Why are Irish ministers of FF/FG/Lab so unwilling to deal with these issues? Some allege the usual conspiracy theories, but it’s actually worse. The reason Irish governments don’t deal with these issues is because of inertia, conservatism, fear of change (“We’ve never done THAT before, minister”) and a general lack of imagination. The truth is that the defining ideology of most of FF, FG and Labour is that This Is The Way It Has Always Been Done.
One feature of the poll, for example, is the fact that most people don’t know or believe that most politicians have taken pay cuts. Some quite substantial. Yet the government has proven almost incapable of making a big song and dance about this because ministers are still quite well paid, and so don’t want to make a big noise and draw attention. Instead they let their achievements go unnoticed and let moronic myths take root in the Irish psyche.
In my time in politics I met people who were convinced that TDs paid no tax, that every TD got a chauffeur driven Merc, that 50% of the population is Muslim, that political parties get millions to pay for election campaigns, that refugees get free cars because “Dublin Bus are racist”, and that (I’m not joking) 50% of the national budget goes on TD salaries. As a political activist, I challenged all this nonsense, and got the “Yeah, but you would say that” response.
So here’s my question: whose job is it, on behalf of the state, to wake up every morning and communicate true facts to the Irish electorate? Not spin, but actual fact about how scrapping the government jet will not allow us to create millions of public sector jobs. In the run up to every referendum, we have a Referendum Commission whose loyalty is not to parties but the voter.
Why can’t we have a permanent Voter Commission whose job is to tell the truth every day, and get those facts out?