New breed of parish pump politicians intoxicated by delusions of grandeur
THE strange case of John Halligan’s career as minister of state continues. It is strange for the fact that, while he hasn’t achieved much at home, his vaunted ambition to democratise North Korea speaks to a politician of unusual hubris.
Self-awareness, alas, doesn’t appear to be one of Halligan’s strong suits. The Minister of State with special responsibility for training, skills, innovation, research and development – who oversees workers’ rights – was found to have breached a worker’s rights in terms of the Employment Equality Act, of which he appears starkly unaware.
Or else, and far more worryingly, he is aware of the act but decided to ignore it by going ahead with his ‘I know I shouldn’t be asking this but...’, then inquired whether the female civil servant was married and had children.
Halligan’s defence that he wasn’t a professional interviewer seems somewhat bizarre, given that most people who sit on interview boards, including myself, are not professional human resource people. That’s why there are HR professionals on such boards, although nobody on the board in question thought it wise to intervene once the minister had asked his clearly inappropriate question.
Moreover, not only had the line of questioning not been stopped there, but later there was no acknowledgement of any failing once the candidate wrote to complain. Even worse, the State’s original view was that the position of private secretary to the minister was somehow exempt from normal interview rules.
WE SEEM to have reached a state in Ireland where ministerial officeholders are so powerful that no one is willing to call them to account, at least to their faces. I have written about the power of the state before on these pages and how all-pervasive it can be. There can be little doubt that such power was on display again in this case.
Halligan’s self-pitying view that his question was well-intentioned and designed to put the candidate at their ease, is a classic case of ministerial hubris. It misses the central point that it is hard to imagine a question that is more likely to put a candidate on edge than a deeply personal one about marriage and children.
This, in the modern Ireland where, according to the 2016 census, births outside of marriage stand at close to 40%. Why would it make any difference to any interviewer, or indeed any candidate, whether a candidate is married or not?
Why, also, would it make a difference to either party as to whether a candidate has children? Thousands of people with children go to work every day. They also apply for and are interviewed for new jobs and promotions every day.
They make arrangements with creches, neighbours, parents and friends to have their children minded. This is the stuff of modern living and nobody interviewing for a position needs to be put at ease during an interview by being asked a question that can only bring about the exact opposite result.
But Halligan, at least according to himself, is doing a good job and will not be resigning. In September 2016, Halligan also had to insist he would not be resigning over the issue of a second catheterisation lab at University Hospital Waterford.
NOTWITHSTANDING that an independent clinical review recommended against such a move, Halligan threatened to ‘bring all hell down’ on the Government if it failed to deliver the lab, although he later said he had been quoted out of context.
He did eventually secure a new mobile catheterisation lab for University Hospital Waterford, joining his Independent Alliance colleague Shane Ross in extracting delivery for the parish pump from the Government.
This is the problem with power and those who wield it. It can lead to a heady but deadly concoction of hubris and selfdelusion, where only those with political power know what’s right, and damn what the experts say. Halligan has been infused with a touch of Michael Gove, who infamously claimed Britain had had enough of experts.
It also leads to a scenario where any question can be asked in an interview, and as the case of Michael Colgan at the Gate Theatre shows, any conduct can be excused on the grounds of the brilliance of the man with the power.
Well, thankfully there are people who are willing to stand up to such power and call it out for what it is: abuse of position and trust. In that context, we should be grateful to the complainant and the office of the Workplace Relations Commission for speaking truth to power, and we should also be thankful to those women who have called out Colgan and the Gate.
Halligan has been a junior minister for close to 18 months. In the Ireland of new politics, one can search and search for any policy implementation which bears his imprint but one will look in vain.
The same charge can be levelled at the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Shane Ross, who, while obsessed with judicial appointments and his constituency, seems strangely reluctant to do anything at all about his own ministerial portfolio.
That other member of our bold Independent Alliance trio, Finian McGrath, is at least in a department with which he has a lifelong interest and has been making headway on a range of disability issues. He is, however, the Minister for State in the Department of Health who opposed the HPV vaccine his own Government was trying to introduce, although he later tried to squirm out of any responsibility by saying he had simply ‘cocked up’.
ON FRIDAY, McGrath moaned that the Independent Alliance members were ganged up on and ridiculed in relation to their much-anticipated visit (at least in their eyes) to North Korea. He wondered why people who wanted to do good and have a peaceful and democratic world were lampooned, and plaintively declared that the whole episode was a ‘sad day for democracy’.
This is hubris on a grand scale. What were the great heroes of the Independent Alliance going to achieve in Pyongyang? Did they expect Kim Jong-un to say: ‘You know what? Those Independent Alliance guys are right, time to try this democracy lark.’
In 1852 Karl Marx, in The Eighteenth Brumaire Of Louis Napoleon, wrote of history repeating itself first as tragedy, then as farce.
The tragedy of Irish politics is that the parish pump continues to breed independent politicians who harbour delusions of grandeur of resolving war and democratising tyrants, but at heart want to protect their own patch above all others.
The farce is that they are in government.
Halligan’s self-pitying view is a classic case of hubris