Friday, July 26, 2019

In the Political Swing of Things

“Bailey has stuck to her guns by claiming that the swing at the Dean Hotel was unsafe and therefore she was entitled to make her compensation claim, despite being laughed at for a long period of time by the Dean Hotel, the opposition, her own party and indeed the country at large… but is she right? Not seeing any other way to put this issue to bed, WWN got shitfaced and headed to some local swings to see just how dangerous these things are…”
—“Are Swings Dangerous? We Get Locked & Find Out,” the satirical Irish web site Waterford Whispers News, June 24
Irish beer lovers and teutonophiles were disappointed on Wednesday when it was announced this year’s Dublin Oktoberfest has been canceled. The reason given was the rising cost of insurance. For the past several years the autumn festival has drawn festive crowds to George’s Dock in the capital.

A statement from the organizers read, in part, “In Germany we are not used to the claim culture that has developed in Ireland and therefore we have decided to take a break this year. The belief that putting in an insurance claim doesn’t hurt anyone except the insurance company is incorrect, consequently great fun events like ours find it hard to go ahead when suspect insurance claims from a small minority of people can ruin it for everybody.”

There is some dispute over how much the rapid increases in insurance premiums are owed to fraudulent claims as opposed to industry greed, but nobody who lives in the republic has escaped the ample anecdotal evidence of the so-called “compo culture.” And then there is this little factoid. Researchers at the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway examined all reported instances of whiplash patients seen by spinal specialists between 1996 and 2011. How many of those patients went on to initiate legal action? All of them. How many of them continued visits to the specialists after the legal action was concluded? None of them.

For our own anecdotal purposes, let’s look at one random case that was reported in the papers in May. In 2015 while on a night out with friends in Dublin, a woman from Dún Laoghaire sat on a swing in the bar of a Harcourt Street hotel. She held things in both hands, at least one of which was a drink, but later said she had not actually imbibed. She fell off the swing and went to a hospital the next day. She subsequently sued the hotel on the grounds that the swing was “unsupervised.” Furthermore, her complaint said that she could not engage in her hobby of running “at all” for three months after the accident. When this is eventually reported in the papers, there was ridicule and outrage, not least because a national newspaper reported she took part in a The Bay 10k run just weeks after the incident.

You might wonder why this particular case received so much press attention. It is probably because the woman in question (Maria Bailey) was a county councilor at the time and, a couple of weeks after her accident, was nominated and (subsequently elected) by the Fine Gael party to be a TD (member of the Irish parliament). Making things more awkward, Fine Gael, which is currently in charge of the government, has made an issue of reform of the legal compensation system. Even more awkwardly, this all hit the papers and airwaves around the time of local and European elections in which Fine Gael generally underperformed. Many members of the public emailed Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar saying they would not vote Fine Gael because of the Maria Bailey incident. Shortly after the election, Bailey dropped her legal claim.

Fine Gael conducted an internal review of the matter, but the resulting report will not be made public. As a result though, Bailey has been removed as chair of a parliamentary committee but has not been suspended as a party member.

Given the current dissatisfaction with Fine Gael (yes, people are actually calling it SwingGate) and the fact that the party currently polls second to the main opposition party, Fianna Fáil, you might expect opposition leader Micheál Martin to terminate the “confidence and supply” agreement which keeps the minority government propped up and trigger parliamentary elections. After all, Varadkar has been Taoiseach for more than two years now but has never actually faced voters as the Fine Gael leader. But Martin shows no interest in doing so. The narrative for three years now has been that the next election should be delayed until the Brexit “emergency” is over.

In other words, voters, there’s no hurry in calling you back to the polls. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about all this government stuff for now.

Apparently this current status quo suits the political class just fine. Everyone has their Dáil salaries and perks and look forward to their generous government pensions. It’s not like there is a life-and-death political struggle going on or anything that needs to be settled. Heck, blow-ins like myself can’t even figure out what the philosophical difference is between the two main parties—beyond whose great-grandfather fought on which side in the Civil War.

Yes, everything is just fine—at least until someone gets a bit greedy and ill-advisedly runs to the claims courts.

Monday, July 8, 2019

History’s Bridge

“It was only meant to be a few hours of fun. A lark. On a sunny Saturday morning the three of them set sail on Puget Sound because of Maria’s dream. Then disaster struck, and the three of them were plunged into a dark adventure in which they would confront good and evil, past lives, and a timeless curse born from a tragic love.”
—Marketing tagline for the novel The Curse of Septimus Bridge
One thing you soon learn from living in rural Ireland is that the past is never very far away.

I used to think that history did not weigh on Americans the same way it does on people in most other countries, but lately I question whether that is as true as I thought.

Americans seem to be going through a period of unearthing and rediscovering and reliving and, most pertinently, relitigating their country’s past. On one hand, this is a good and necessary thing to do. It is healthy to come to terms with past wrongs and to attempt to right them where possible. On the other hand, it can also be divisive. Dwelling obsessively on the past can lead to competing historical narratives and a sense of grievance that can be exploited by manipulative leaders.

I myself have been doing a fair amount of dwelling on the past during the past several months. As you can see by the shameless plug on the right-hand side of this page, I have a new “latest novel.” The Curse of Septimus Bridge is another one of my fantasies, but unlike The Three Towers of Afranor it does not take place in a made-up mythical world. It starts out in Seattle, Washington, and somewhere in the middle of the story, it finds itself (of all places) in 17th-century Ireland.

This had the strange effect of causing me to see the place I live at a temporal remove. The few remnants of Galway’s medieval wall, which now are incorporated into a city-center shopping mall, sprouted up to surround the central city as it did many years ago. The ruined castles that dot the surrounding landscape became new again and were once more inhabited by the twelve tribes, i.e. the dominant Anglo-Norman clans, of Galway. The city waited apprehensively, as an English army led by Oliver Cromwell headed its way, cutting a swath from Dublin across the island.

This sense of distant local history coming alive is new to me, but not to the Irish. Mention Cromwell’s name today, and you get a palpable reaction. There are plenty of reasons for the Irish to feel aggrieved by their larger neighbor—conquest, massacres, religious and national persecution, famines, and a bloody civil war that happened just a bit less than a century ago. Somehow, however, people manage to get on with their lives, mostly in peace and even in general prosperity—political dysfunction in Belfast and Brexit notwithstanding.

Of course, the peace is not absolute. For much of the late 20th century, Northern Ireland was rocked by violence. That is what comes of different groups adopting and adhering so strongly to their own mutually exclusive narratives that they cannot accept the legitimacy of imperfect but democratically elected leaders whom they cannot abide.

Just something to think about as we head deeper into the interminable 2020 election campaign.

By the way, the paperback edition of The Curse of Septimus Bridge is available from major online booksellers, including Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The digital version is available exclusively from Amazon’s Kindle Store. Those are US sites. For other countries, kindly consult my book blog.