Tuesday, January 15, 2013

We've moved beyond our dogmatic past, now let's end politics of envy (Comment)

They are two fairly disparate events to put it mildly – but there is a strange connection between this past week's abortion hearings and the news that none other than Sinn Fein icon Gerry Adams has received top-class private medical treatment in the US.

Both in a way provide insights into where we are regarding what might be termed "the national conversation".

The abortion debates have been rightly lauded for the aura of temperate and reasoned language on all sides, with at least an outward determination by those concerned not to be seen as resorting to simplistic confrontation about this most complex of issues.

Whether this line, of at times rarefied and genteel restraint, will hold when a real edge comes into the battle out on the high street is unlikely; but at least the last few days gave us a flavour of how things could and should be different on those occasions when we verbally tear ourselves apart on matters of national importance.

Over the past week it was as if Ireland put on display some of the keenest intelligences in the land to publicly dissect certain great moral and philosophical challenges of our age – the question of when life begins coupled with other existential issues such as how one balances the right to life of the unborn with the possible death of a mother.

One of the key conclusions from these deliberations is the difficulty of articulating absolutes on such profound and deeply complex topics.

The contributions should especially send a signal to some of the more perceptive sensibilities within the Irish Catholic Church.

The days of dogmatism expressed by way of confrontation and aggressive language are over and done with. Sophistication of argument is now much more likely to be effective in the long run.

Our previous abortion debates, as is currently generally recognised, were all too often tawdry, disingenuous and hysterical.

But whatever way matters go this time round, things can never be quite the same again.

So let all concerned have their say, and at the end of the day let the Government govern, make their laws, and take their chances with the voters come election time.

But on another level, this week's discourse did offer a kind of beacon as to how we might disport ourselves on sundry other matters which also should be devoid of the simplicities of absolutism – say for example when dissecting the economy.

Which brings us to the question of Gerry Adams securing high-cost private medical treatment in the US.

Of course the Sinn Fein leader is perfectly entitled to spend the money at his disposal in whatever way he sees fit and avail of whatever medical expertise is available. 

But both he and his party must be fully aware of the hypocrisy of the decision given the unyielding party line on such matters.

The whole question of private healthcare – which is essentially queue jumping by those who can afford it – goes to the very heart of the age-old debate of socialism versus capitalism.

This was surely evident in the obstacles confronted by US President Barack Obama in trying to get the taxpayer to fund a wider and fairer medical care system in the most capitalist country on the planet.

Gerry Adams's decision to pay for the privilege of accessing top-of-the-range treatment is the very essence of the free-market capitalism so anathema to both himself and his party. 

Yet Sinn Fein continues to view the economy within a prism of nauseous simplicity.

With a kind of Stalinist rigidity, party members suggest that if we take enough money off those wealthy types who can afford variants of costly private healthcare, large houses, flashy cars, private schools, skiing holidays, designer fashion, extravagant jewellery, yachts, boats, and expensive bottles of wine, then all will be sorted.

There seems to be no allowance made for human individuality or, for instance, where talent, drive, initiative, and hard work is motivated by the not unusual desire to earn as much income as possible.

Is that not the kind of motivation that keeps the CAO points for medical courses so high every year?

Whatever about the altruism of our annual batch of school leavers – the fact there is potential high income to be earned as a medic does seem to be an important motivating factor for many of them and their parents.

Nothing as such wrong with all of that. It's just the way things are.

But it would be a welcome change if the likes of Mary Lou McDonald and Pearse Doherty even now and again would acknowledge such realities when they offer us their soundbites on windbag economics.

All developed societies need the safety valve of left-of-centre politics if only for the reason that untrammelled capitalism will eventually devour itself.

But we could do with a wider view of the world from Sinn Fein.

The odd acknowledgement that wealth per se is not evil incarnate wouldn't go amiss.

The politics of envy and resentment at this stage are just so sterile and, worst of all, unremittingly boring.

- Gerry O'Regan

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