Muslim Community Lobby Ireland is an independent organization established 1st May 2007. Its motto is TO USE THE VOTE RIGHTLY AND TO RAISE THE MUSLIM COMMUNITY AWARNESS WITH THEIR RIGHTS AND TO PROMOTE TOLERANCE AND UNDERSTANDING OF OTHER EXISTING GROUPS. لترشيد استعمال الصوت الانتخابي ولتوعية وتعريف المسلمين بحقوقهم في ايرلندا وان يعيشوا بتفهم للواقع وللجماعات الاخرى الموجودة على الساحة

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our calls for reform fail to blame our basic culture

We may be overlooking the nature of Ireland’s modus operandi when we yell for change, writes ELAINE BYRNE .
STOCKHOLM SYNDROME is a psychological response by kidnap victims who become sympathetic and loyal to their kidnappers. Hostages bond with the hostage taker as a basic survival strategy. Isolation induces the prisoner to adopt the captor’s mindset.
Is this phenomenon also known as Irish political culture? Are our political institutions trapped by a mindset which is angry but accepts the New York hip-hop philosophy of Run DMC: “It’s like that, and that’s the way it is!”
Trinity College Dublin and the Political Studies Association of Ireland hosted a conference yesterday to ask these questions: Are our Institutions Fit for Purpose? Political Reform in the Republic of Ireland.
The objective of the conference was to provide a forum for Ireland’s leading political scientists, political commentators and interested practitioners to discuss their views on political reform. Jane Suiter, Matt Wall, both PhD scholars at Trinity, and I sat down over a cup of coffee a few weeks ago to organise the conference. By presenting accessible, informed and dispassionate analysis to a wider public, we innocently hope to motivate public participation as part of a process to drive institutional change.
There are no silver bullets or quick fixes but rather a cocktail of experiences which will emerge as part and parcel of a protracted learning process. As Dr Eoin O’Malley and Prof John Coakley have asked on these pages this week, are our institutional failings the consequence of a bankrupt Irish political culture or are they the cause?
Was the focus of the conference misguided? Patterns of behaviour develop over time. Those guilty of impropriety become so accustomed to their wrongdoing that they begin to think of themselves as invincible. According to behaviour theory, collective guilt finds expression in the tolerance of further transgressions which are not corrected because of an absence of strong external pressure.
Whistleblowers are the exception. When ethical lapses occur, they are justified on the premise that such incidents are isolated and rare occurrences. The focus shifts towards the individual transgression at the expense of wider systemic analysis.
As a consequence, reform is reactionary and responds only to crisis. Maybe then it’s easier to blame institutions rather than ourselves, the voting public. We are an inherently contradictory people. We want wideranging Scandinavian public services but are only willing to contribute to a low tax base. A majority of us voted against the Lisbon Treaty but a minority voted for anti-Lisbon MEP candidates. We condemn corruption but condone the activity of local councillors who “deliver” for our area.
As Prof Michael Marsh (TCD) outlined yesterday, the electorate may feign demands for a policy-orientated party system but in reality make consistent choices for personality based representation.
Is it our own fault then? Are we assuming that institutions are self-reforming animals and that politics will voluntarily revolutionise itself? Is it something more fundamental and specific to our culture?
Prof Coakley spoke about the paradox of Irish political culture. Irish Independence signalled the overt rejection of British influence in Ireland, yet we accepted British models of government as our own.
Are our institutions more appropriate to the egalitarian organisation typical of Protestantism, which gave them birth, and less suited to the hierarchical disposition of Catholicism, which inhabits them?
Although geographically in the north of Europe, Ireland shares characteristics with the south. Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain have traditionally been distinguished by clannish catch-all parties and entrenched centre-periphery politics. Strong, larger-than-life, boss-like personalities act as indispensable intermediaries to access state resources.
Ireland also shares a Catholic ethos with the south. The Catholic Church places emphasis on the inherent weakness and shortcomings of human beings, their inability to escape sin and the consequent need for the church to be forgiving and protecting. The clergy, as mediators between mankind and God, facilitate, via confession, the possibility to be absolved of guilt.
Anger focused into outrage is necessary for a public opinion to grow into genuine demands for political change. Anger management if you will. But first we must join the dots of causes and consequences.
For this to happen, three crucial factors must coincide. An issue must strike deep into the hearts of an electorate, as the Ryan report, so powerfully demonstrated. Attitudes from diverse perspectives must crystallise and consequently invoke polarisation. Finally, an event must erupt whereby political parties are sharply differentiated in relation to public perception.
Institutional reform cannot make people act in ways that are more moral or more honest.