March 29th: Hubris, ‘excessive pride or self-confidence’, is defining the current leadership of the state. It is increasingly manifest in the actions of the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and it is now not only apparent domestically, but on the international stage too.
Three weeks ago I wrote about the Strategic Development Unit (SDU) and how, within weeks of becoming Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar had set in train plans for a new government media outfit that would cost €5m of taxpayer’s money. The SDU ended up pushing a Fine Gael agenda, Fine Gael election candidates, and paying regional newspapers to present government ad’s (call them propaganda if you wish) as news copy. Only a Taoiseach imbued with large dollops of hubris could have thought he’d get away with it. But yesterday it was announced that now that these activities have been exposed to public scrutiny the unit is to be abolished, and not a minute too soon.
Never one to humbly reflect on his shortcomings the Taosieach left our shores while this domestic incident was in full swing to meet someone even more hubristic than himself, complete with a bowl of shamrock as a ‘gift’, US President Donald J. Trump. This event must make our leaders feel very important. The White House! St. Patrick’s Day!! All the hoopla and paddy whackery!!! An auld pint of Guinness and a ‘how’s she cutting there Donnie, happy Paddy’s Day begorrah’. It would almost make an experienced politician dizzy with excitement. And lo and behold, in 2018, it actually made a relatively inexperienced one completely lose the run of himself. Our Taoiseach saw fit to reminisce about the time when he was Minister for Tourism and somebody in Co. Clare wanted to build a wind farm. Nothing wrong with that we thought, there’s lots of wind in Clare. Why not farm it? It’s better than burning turf. But Donald J. Trump owned a five-star golf resort adjacent to the proposed wind farm. He didn’t want the eyes of his well -heeled buddies to be offended by anything as ugly as a wind turbine, or forty-five of them. So he rang the Minister for Tourism in Ireland, as you do, and asked for his help. The Taoiseach told TV on St. Patrick’s Day how he had called Clare County Council and, nod nod wink wink, ‘endeavoured to do what he could’ on behalf of Trump. And the wind farm went away. Trump won again. The Taoiseach openly joked about how the President had ‘very kindly given me credit for that’ beside a grinning Trump.
Another political storm ensued and it emerged that Varadkar had made no such call at all. Instead he had actually written to Fáilte Ireland Chief Executive Shaun Quinn about the matter. Well that’s alright then! Pat Leahy of the Irish Times wrote an excellent piece on the matter and the headline was ‘Leo Varadkar’s wind farm storm will blow over’. And indeed it seems to have done so. But the hubris now appears to be contagious.
Step forward Varadkar’s deputy, Tánaiste Simon Coveney. I am not going to attack Coveney’s position on Repeal of the 8th Amendment. My views on that matter are known (‘just trust women’) and Coveney appears to be on his own personal journey in relation to the abortion issue. Fair enough. It is perfectly reasonable for any person, even the second most powerful Politician in the country, to explore issues such as this and adapt positions in line with evolving evidence and arguments. But yesterday Simon Coveney made an utterly ridiculous proposal. He proposed something that was blatantly unconstitutional. He proposed a two third Dáil lock on abortion legislation.
How could An Tánaiste propose such a thing, publicly and on such a crucial issue, without getting legal advice? Coveney is no Barrister. He hasn’t practised at the Bar. He hasn’t studied at Kings Inns or the Law Society. Yet he felt comfortable enough to make a ridiculous, and impossible, proposal publicly and he ended up with egg all over his face. The egg was put there, of necessity, by Varadkar himself. How could Coveney make such a blunder? Hubris – ‘excessive pride or self-confidence’. So far so bad, so embarrassing, so silly. But apart from showing up some serious flaws in what are currently our two most senior politicians is much real harm done? That is open to debate.
But then we come to Russia! Russia is different. Russia is bloody serious. Russia is a big fish, a powerful ally perhaps, or Russia could be a very formidable foe indeed. And in the last week we, led jointly by Varadkar and Coveney, have decided to attack Russia. We have expelled a Russian diplomat because of something that Russia are accused of having done, but strenuously deny doing, in Britain. There is no proven evidence that the Russian state used ‘chemical warfare’ in an attack on a former spy in Salisbury. The events are shrouded in mystery. But the British secret service and Prime Minister have said they believe the Russian state did it.
Ok. But they ‘believed’ Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) too.
Ireland used to be a neutral country. This was often good, because it kept us out of wars. And it was sometimes bad, because it allowed us to stand apart from horrors like the holocaust as if it had nothing to do with us. Our neutrality could be both affirming and shaming depending on how you viewed it. But as far as Varadkar and Coveney are concerned it is clear that that debate is now over. Not only did we allow Shannon Airport to be used as an effective US Air Force base for the perpetuation of illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there is little doubt that we also allowed it to be used for ‘ extraordinary rendition’ (kidnapping outside the rules of international law, justice or processes). And as to the Britain and their role in those wars? In the last week Varadkar and Coveney have behaved as if their appalling behaviour in relation never happened and that Britain and its secret services can be completely trusted.
The stated intent of the invasion of Iraq was set out by the United States in 2001 and it was to remove ‘a regime that developed and used weapons of mass destruction, that harboured and supported terrorists, committed outrageous human rights abuses, and defied the just demands of the United Nations and the world’.
Leaving aside the flowery, unproven and exaggerated polemic from a nation ascribing to itself the right to speak for ‘the world’, the invasion was about regime change and was originally based on the stated falsehood that Saddam Hussein was developing WMD. It was even claimed that these weapons were so developed that they could be deployed to target Britain in 45 minutes.
These claims were lies.
Remember Doctor David Kelly? Doctor Kelly was an authority on biological warfare employed by the British Ministry of Defence. He became a UN ‘weapons inspector’ in Iraq nominated by the British security services. Anyway he’s dead, but we don’t know why. We don’t know why because the post-mortem report and photos of Kelly after death have been ordered to ‘remain classified’ for seventy years by an inquiry into the matter called the Hutton Inquiry. What we do know however is that Saddam Hussein had no WMD of the type claimed by the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, of the type used by the then British Prime Minister to justify an illegal and immoral war. We know that David Kelly knew this. We know that he refused to play along with the lie of the British Prime Minister and the British secret service. And we know that he ended up dead and the circumstances of that death have been classified for 70 years. But it wasn’t the Russians!
Oh yes, and we know that the British Prime Minister of the time turned out to be a proven liar, arguably a war criminal, and certainly a hubristic demagogue.
Yet in this case, with these catastrophic events still fresh in all our minds and hundreds of thousands dead as a result of these lies, Ireland has taken a decision. Our minority, barely representative, government has just torn up neutrality, accepted the suspicions of the British secret service and Prime Minister and expelled a Russian diplomat. Based on what exactly? This ‘hubris’ will land Ireland in big trouble yet.