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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Donald doesn’t duck. He gets it done


SAY what you like about twittering US President-elect Donald Trump, but he gets things done. This week, he has been claiming credit for the US Congress rolling back on watering down ethics standards in politics.
His Twitter finger — which will soon hover over the red nuclear button — is also believed to have been a factor in the Ford motor company scrapping plans to build a new plant in Mexico. The Donald is chomping at the bit to make America great again.
OK, the guy is a narcissistic loose cannon, with apparent attention deficit disorder, who knows nothing of process or diplomacy, and has precious little regard for many of the basic tenets of democracy. But, in the short term, at least, he may get a few things done.

A failure to get things done is one of the reasons why liberal democracy is in the doghouse across the western world. Instead of vision or an aptitude to improve the lives of the bulk of citizens, too often initiatives are caught up in tortuous process, fear of vested interests, or fear of discommoding anybody who is deemed to matter.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the poor, benighted democracy that passes for a system in this country. Getting things done has never been as difficult as the body politic now makes it out to be.

Not so with The Donald; not yet, anyway. On Tuesday last, the new US House of Representatives met, and decided to make hay while the world was still in shock at the election of a reality TV star to the presidency. Some bright spark pushed the idea that an ethics watchdog for Congress should be made up of politicians, rather than anybody outside the bubble. This was a good old-fashioned stroke, reverting to a discredited system of self-policing.
The Donald, who has pledged to “drain the swamp”, was having none of it. He took to Twitter. “With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog as unfair as it is…may be, their number one act and priority. Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many others things of greater importance!” That policy document actually took two tweets to complete, but The Donald is not a man to scrimp.

Earlier that day, Trump tweeted about car manufacturers migrating south to Mexico, taking a potshot at General Motors.
“Make in USA or pay big border tax!”. (The use of the exclamation mark is set to be a regular feature of policy documents in the forthcoming US administration. In fact, the importance of the policy may be discerned by the number of exclamation marks in any particular tweet!!!). Within hours, the Ford company was cancelling plans for a big plant in Mexico. Trump took credit for that, and why wouldn’t he?

It’s no way to run a country. But before dismissing the “attention deficit disordered Donald”, take a look at how things are done in this country.
Earlier in the week, when the annual scandal of hundreds of people lying on trolleys raised its head once more, the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, had just the solution. He announced that he would review the acute bed capacity in Ireland’s hospitals.
A review was carried out last year, and another the year before. This will be a review inside a plan, wrapped in a report.

The most pressing issue facing the country is housing. Here, the Government has set out a strategy that is top- heavy with targets. Let’s see how that gets on.
One aspect of housing policy that came into effect this week was a register for vacant sites. Landowners will have to register sites that are lying idle, while thousands of people are without homes. An incentive to get things moving is the imposition of a financial penalty based on the value of the idle site, which is a good idea, except the fine doesn’t kick in for another two years, just in case anybody is discommoded.
The future of the Eighth Amendment constitutional ban on abortion has come to the fore over the last few years, following three decades of discussion on its appropriateness or otherwise. Instead of addressing the issue in the national parliament and leaving it up to the general populace, we have a citizens assembly to discuss it and pass it onto parliament, which will hand it over to a committee that may finally give the citizens their say. Perhaps the body politic needs another few decades before facing up to it.

Ditto how we are going to pay for, and respect, a precious resource like treated water, not to mention paying for, and respecting, the environmental impact of wastewater. Unlike the rest of the developed world, Ireland has no specific charge for these services. Instead, we had an alleged expert commission examine and report on the issue, before Christmas. That body handed it over to a committee assembled for this specific purpose, which will then pass the matter back to the Oireachtas.
It also emerged, during the week, that drink driving is on the rise again, as evidenced by a 35% increase in arrests over Christmas. The Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, told Danny McConnell, in the Irish Examiner, that there had been an increase in road deaths, which is “calamitous”. “If drink-driving continues, we will have to look at dramatic ways of tackling it…because drunk-driving has been resurrected as a huge problem,” he said.

Despite the gravity of the situation, he wants to wait for another three months, before deciding whether to lower the blood alcohol limit. Bringing in such a measure immediately might save lives, but it would discommode rural TDs, as Ross acknowledged this week.
So it’s best to hang tough, see what happens, and provide space for the issue to be slid onto the long finger. Then, once the tip of the long finger is reached, the minister will actually make a decision. Unless, of course, he sees a pressing need to commission a report on whether or not he should make a decision, ahead of a proper review of any proposal.

This kind of paralysis by analysis in so many areas of politics is adding to cynicism about how the country is run. Everything is parsed, examined, subjected to test runs, raised and flown from the nearest flagpole, to gauge reaction, and then put through a tortuous process or realisation. Finally, there tends to be a decision at Cabinet, which is dispatched to the general public like a lobbed grenade, while all the ministers scurry for cover under the Cabinet table.

Is that any way to run a country? Is it any less crazy than The Donald governing by Twitter? Is it any more likely to better the lives of the bulk of citizens? 

Michael Clifford