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.

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