Thursday, November 17, 2011

I'm feeling a little like a lost Nietzschean

Every few years an idea, good or bad as the case may be, will emerge. It will attract some bouquets and some brickbats but 99% of the time it will have very little traction and so will recede beneath the waves until it is once again exposed at low tide. It's a little like a trivial version of Nietzsche's eternal return of the same.

The latest idea mooted in Her Majesty's realm where I now find myself is the abolition of the ministerial dispatch box, popularly known as a "red box". They hold cabinet papers and memoranda, are weighted with lead in order to sink when dropped overboard and have their hinges on the same side as the handle. (If you forget to lock yours, everything falls out when you pick it up thus reminding you!) Apparently iPads can do the same job, really quite securely and at only three and a half times the cost. Of course, there is no problem with this at all except lots of people, even highly tech-savvy people, like to read things off printed pages. And you can print things from an iPad. You can even carry a sheaf of these printed pages around with you. And the next thing you know a secret list of planned raids on terrorist safe houses is snapped by a papperazzo with his snazzy digital camera. And the next thing after that some bright spark will say, well, if you must print things then put the printed pages into a box or bag where they can't be seen. Something waterproof, preferably and maybe with an automatic security system to remind you when you've forgotten to lock it... Hmm... As this is the second if not third time we've been through this particular charade, perhaps we could just wait until the demise of Barrow & Gale (who make the red boxes) is announced before we assume that it's anything more than a pious genuflection in the direction of modernisation.

Much as I covet one of those iconic briefcases, their abolition would not cause me to lose that much sleep. There are other and rather more important ideas that resurface every fews years that could do more harm. The abolition of the National University of Ireland is one; the reform of Seanad Éireann is another. The former is not necessarily a bad idea in itself while the latter sounds attractive. Unfortunately the possibility of them being done in a sensible way, as well-thought out reforms is so vanishingly small that it's not worth pursuing. After the lies over Roscommon hospital, the barefaced lies over the Ryan report and the virtual breaking off of diplomatic relations with the Holy See, who honestly believes that a power-hungry unprincipled political hack like Enda Kenny or an unreconstructed Marxist thug like Eamon Gilmore could be trusted with a serious, delicate task like constitutional reform? Especially when that reform, if it was to yield a meaningful second chamber, would involve checks on their unlimited power to whip the legislature into line behind whatever stupid fad the Government wants to follow this week. To be fair in this regard, this shower of malicious incompetents is no worse than the last lot but at least neither of the former governing parties still exists in any meaningful way to trouble us.

So I think Red Boxes will last a while yet; I'll still vote for Seanad Éireann and the university in which I cast my ballot will soldier on because no-one has thought of a better idea. On the upside, if I get to help vote Rónán Mullen back into Leinster House next time, I'll consider it a job well done!

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