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

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