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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A tale of two Irelands

Partition is a reality. We're a number of generations down the road from the creation of the border, and while the two sections of the island have grown closer in recent peacetime, there's no doubt that a cultural gap has grown in the intervening years.

I'm not talking about the presence of significant numbers of Protestants in the North. They've been there a long time. I'm talking about the difference in cultures that is demonstrated by these two stories of health service junketeering:

1. On Monday, the Irish News in Belfast had a story all over its front page about jet-setting NHS chiefs, swanning off to America on health service money.

2. Today, the Irish Times in Dublin has a story mentioned briefly on its front page about jet-setting Irish health service middle-manager, swanning off to America on health service money.

What's the difference? Well, in the Northern case, the top two guys (named and shamed in the article) in the ambulance service attended a legitimate training course in Boston this year that cost £6,000 but could have been cheaper by about £1,500 if they'd stayed in cheaper hotel rooms.

In the Southern case, an unnamed official went on SIXTEEN foreign junkets to places including Australia and New York, wracking up an unmentioned total bill on trips that were found to have little relevance or merit.

In the North, the culprits are named and the costs identified, and even though it was one trip and the figure relatively paltry, it made the front page. Because the culture in the North is to be disgusted at any waste in the health service when front line services are being cut.

In the South, we'll never know who the culprit was. We aren't told how big a bill he wracked up. He's already retired, so there will be no punishment, no comeback. And it's a tiny story, because we're so inured to this sort of corruption, from Government ministers, to Fas, to every arm of the state using the country's money like a holiday voucher, that sixteen pointless trips abroad, often suspiciously around St Patrick's Day, is just another drop in the ocean of corruption and greed.

£1500 quid too much spent on a legitimate training trip, and the North is up in arms. Many multiples of that squandered on pointless junkets in the South, and we don't find out who was responsible, or how much they wasted, and the story will pass into history without a second glance.

For me, this is the single biggest obstacle to uniting Ireland. I know plenty of Unionists and Loyalists. They're coming to terms with the rest of the island. Many of them can imagine a single state with them in it, as long as their identity was protected.

They're not fearful of 'Rome Rule' anymore. They're fearful of this - ending up in a basketcase economy, rife with corruption, where a blind eye is turned to cute hoors with their noses in the trough.

The cross-border bodies set up under the Good Friday Agreement have been enlightening in this regard. With the singular exception of the Ulster-Scots Agency, which was a junket fund for spoofers, bigots and paedophiles, the cross border bodies have been one long litany of Northern civil servants complaining, appalled, about how their Southern counterparts behave in regards to wasting funds and pulling fast ones.

This gombeen culture, and our collective tolerance of it, has to stop. The media can play its part. The Irish Times deserves some credit for reporting this at all. But until the day when these sort of stories of corruption are reported with the same appalled horror that a much more minor misdemeanour in the North attracts, there will forever be two Irelands on this island.

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