Fianna Fáil, an Irish political party, has published what it describes as a “new Bill to help tackle River Shannon flooding“.
In fact, of course, the bill, if enacted, would do nothing of the sort, as the party itself admits. It proposes to add even more idiotic measures, including subsidies to encourage people to live in flood plains. But at the core of its thinking is that no interests, other than those of the inhabitants of flood plains, should carry any legal weight, and that that can be assured by placing a single body, the Electricity Supply Board, in charge of everything to do with the Shannon. Perhaps it was inspired by the ESB’s success in dealing with the salmon and eel fisheries — although some might prefer that the ESB concentrate on reducing electricity prices instead.
Blithering idiocy of this kind is not confined to Fianna Fáil and it is, I suggest, a reflection of the generally low level of ability and experience of Irish politicians. They are, I suggest, simply unable to think usefully about large and complex problems.
I tried to find CVs for all members of the current Dáil. I looked at Wikipedia entries, personal websites and party websites, as well as a few other sites that I hoped might have information.
I was looking for TDs whose CVs indicated significant experience in running large organisations or large projects: projects as large and complex as, for instance, managing Shannon floods, hospitals or the water supply.
I found nobody whose experience came anywhere near those levels (although it is of course possible that some TDs have such experience but choose to keep quiet about it). There were a few who had worked in medium or large organisations, but at junior levels, and some who had worked at senior levels in small organisations. Some of those with relevant experience had gained it in public or third-sector bodies: I was not looking solely for private-sector experience. But there were far too many who had worked in “professions” or as lobbyists of one kind or another, whose proudest boasts were of involvement in local bodies and of a desire to help individual constituents.
I’m sure they’re all very nice people. But I don’t believe that they have any conception of what it takes to analyse complex data, cost alternative policies or set up and run large organisations carrying out difficult tasks. Hence their focus on nit-picking and on the personal: they are simply unable to cope with anything more difficult. And hence too their fondness for setting up new organisations, reallocating functions and passing laws: they can do all of those things (and perhaps find places on boards for their mates) without having to get to grips with the real, the complex issues. They don’t even have to cope with the chaos their meddling causes — and they then have a new set of people they can shout at.
Some of them might just about be able to organise a piss-up in a brewery; few if any of them could organise the construction and fitting out of anything as complex as a large brewery or could manage the operations of such a brewery. That might not matter if they worked on policy analysis instead, but few of them seem to have any abilities in that sphere either. The problem is one of scale: organising a successful parish bingo night, or an election campaign, is not sufficient preparation for running a large project or organisation.
I see that wiktionary defines “shifting the deckchairs on the Titanic” as
To do something pointless or insignificant that will soon be overtaken by events, or that contributes nothing to the solution of a current problem.
That about sums it up.