Our leaders are failing us.
As a political leader, your primary role is to lay the foundations for a sustainable society and economy, one that enables us as citizens to live in dignity, and with confidence and pride in our country.
No politician can do this on their own. Policy is little more than scaffolding within which we all interact with each other in an infinite number of creative and unpredictable ways to build, shape, and continually reshape our city and country.
If I as a citizen am crucial to this project, why does it feel so often like my leaders not only have little confidence in me, but actively hold me in contempt?
This is what it feels like when I turn on RTÉ radio and hear my minister of finance, Michael Noonan, sigh at me about “eating the seed potatoes” and tell me that the European Commission’s ruling can be overturned by turning over an iPhone and reading “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China.”
Or when I hear Taoiseach Enda Kenny skirt a debate around the government’s budget by saying he won’t go “into economic jargon here because the vast majority of people don’t actually understand”.
I feel like I am being treated like an idiot. I feel like my leaders see me as the enemy, as if speaking with me is a chore they could really do without right now.
The role of a government leader is not just to take decisions, but also to engage with the people who will be affected by and can help inform those decisions. To communicate with us, to debate with us, to be transparent not just about outcomes, but about the process of getting to those outcomes and decisions.
That communication should be two-way. The richness of experience in our country holds perspectives that can forewarn of unintended consequences that, with a few tweaks now, can be avoided.
But, I rarely trust or engage with people who treat me with contempt. If you want me to trust you, to work with you to reshape the country, I have to feel that you have confidence in me – in my intelligence, in my rationality, in my ability to be part of rebuilding our city and our economy.
Because we are not idiots, and we are not the enemy. It is your job to communicate with us, to explain to us what happened. Why did it happen? What is the plan? What should I be doing? How do I counter the guy down the pub spouting populist, dangerous nonsense?
It’s not easy – I know, I’ve been working with and have held great respect for people who put themselves forward in politics for years. But communicating with us is your job.
It could be that there is a reason why decisions are being taken the way that they are – but if there are then they are not being communicated to us, and I certainly don’t feel like I am trusted to understand the deliberations that led to them.
If what I have seen in the past few weeks feels like contempt, then we are used to it. We are used to the state treating us as an inconvenience. And for thousands of public servants in this country, this treatment has been their experience as both citizens, and as employees.
This contempt, this chronic unwillingness to communicate, this poor-quality closed-box policy-making has left a massive open goal at the centre of our civic life – one which is being exploited daily by dangerous populists.
This will only continue to be the case if our leadership does not learn to entrust us with the space and the information, and the respect, to engage critically with the decisions affecting our lives.
This isn’t about being liked, or doing the right thing. It is a basic pragmatic requirement for being effective.