From top: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with Fine Gael TD Maria Bailey in 2016; Bryan Wall
As we’re all well used to by now, the government insists on image over substance. It can claim to represent the needs and wants of the wider citizenry but all it continues to do is take care of its own interests and that of its backers.
We are in the midst of a climate breakdown but all the government can muster is a tepid response in the form of the Climate Action Plan.
Then we have the lack of accountability with Maria Bailey and her legal excursions. Instead, Leo Varadkar and company have decided to go after the source who leaked the entire fiasco to the media.
In the space of a week, then, we have a government intent on doing nothing constructive about the climate breakdown and pursuing a whistleblower.
One would think that given recent history, particularly when it comes to the latter, the government would know better.The fact of the matter is that it does know better. It just doesn’t care. And neither does Leo Varadkar.
With the Climate Action Plan, nothing of major substance is provided. Instead, the government admits that over the coming decades it intends to rely on a relatively “low price trajectory for oil”.
It also suggests allowing local authorities to ban petrol and diesel cars from certain parts of cities or towns. “Zero-emission vehicles” would be given precedence, thus punishing the lower-middle and working classes for not being able to afford a new car.
And that’s not even mentioning the state granting an exploration licence to a Chinese-owned oil company and Exxon to drill for oil off the Kerry Coast.
Another example of the plan’s hollowness comes in its discussion of agriculture. At beginning of the document it is revealed that 32% of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture. By comparison, the European average is 11%.
But in the chapter on agriculture the plan states that:
‘Irish agriculture has strong green credentials and a positive international reputation in terms of the carbon intensity of its dairy and beef output’
In the world of Leo Varadkar and company, being three-times worse than your European peers in polluting the planet is to have “green credentials”.
This is emblematic of the Fine Gael and Leo Varadkar edifice. Image is everything. Reality can never be allowed to shine through. But when it does, it illuminates the side of politics that people like Varadkar want covered up at all costs.
Take the issue of Maria Bailey. Instead of holding her to account for her apparently spurious legal claims, the source of the leak to the press about the entire fiasco is to be hunted down and named and shamed.
We aren’t at the level of Maurice McCabe but it does show that nothing much has changed since he was vindicated by the Charleton Tribunal.
Whistleblowers are not to be celebrated. They are to be found and punished for daring to undermine the edifice and the narrative that supports it. This shows how for Varadkar image is everything. Anything that undermines him and his party is to be denigrated and sought out as a threat.
That also includes the UN. Earlier this year the UN Rapporteur on Housing, Leilani Farha, along with Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations, Surya Deva, sent a letter to the government criticising its housing policies or lack thereof.
They declared that the government has a practice of “adopting laws and policies which treat housing as a commodity and undermine the enjoyment of housing as a human right”.
They went on to accuse the government of essentially allowing the “financialization of housing”.
Housing in Ireland, they wrote, is now “significantly unaffordable”. Government investment in the area “has disconnected housing from its core social purpose of providing people with a place to live in with security and dignity”.
The letter was written back in March, but the government has now taken the authors to task. The government has even claimed that housing is “eminently affordable”.
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul says otherwise. In its pre-budget submission, it revealed that one in five people in rental accommodation spend more than 40% of their income on rent. This, despite what the government might insist, is not sustainable.
Varadkar’s tactic is to maintain that everything is fine and that society is not starting to buckle under the weight of obscene rents, rising homelessness, and a health system on the verge of collapse.
Nothing can be allowed to question the myth of him and his party working for the “common citizens”.
Maria Bailey is an embarrassment because she damaged this edifice by allowing people to see that, in fact, politics-as-usual is the same old story: One rule for them and another for the rest of us.
And that’s why the person who leaked the story to the press in the first place has to be tracked down and duly flogged.
But this insistence on the edifice and its stability is proof of the contempt that Varadkar and his party hold the country in. It doesn’t matter what’s true. It only matters what they say is true.
So, there is no housing crisis and there is a well-thought out plan to combat climate breakdown. The opposite, even if it is true, really isn’t because Leo says so. It isn’t surprising but there is a boldness in his actions and statements that’s impressive.
It makes you question what you’ve actually seen and actually read. This is a well-worn political tactic. Thus far, it seems to have worked. In our confusion the government continues its policies of ignoring the masses for the benefit of the few.
But the thing about tactics is that they can only be used for so long before their target adapts and realises what’s going on.
And this means that for Leo, time is hopefully running out.