By Kevin Myers
Wednesday October 21 2009
Two years ago, 68-year-old Patrick McBride attended the wedding of his youngest daughter GraceAnne in Gortahork, in Donegal.
He returned to his home near Derrybeg at midnight, and just outside his front driveway he fell headfirst into a hole dug on behalf of Donegal County Council. He lay trapped, upside down, with several broken ribs, suffocating and unable to move, before suffering a fatal heart attack. GraceAnne was still in her bridal dress when she was told that her father was dead.
The hole had been there for eight full days. It was "protected" -- and what a wry guffaw that word will bring to the lips of anyone who knows what passes for safety in the vicinity of council-dug holes anywhere in Ireland -- by a tape tied between two cones, and a lamp-post and some bushes. Yes, and we've all seen that forlorn piece of straggly tape, looping this way and that.
This is the culture of unsupervised Ireland: that no one is ever responsible for any derelictions of duty, and that workmen may cause whatever random violations of the road surface and of pavements, wherever and whenever they like. It matters not.
Holes once dug may then be abandoned until the laziness which led to their abandonment finally passes. And then the workmen may return for a day or so, before forgetting the hole once again. We've all seen it, the orphaned little crater, with little bits of striped tape lying in the mud, connected haphazardly to prostrated cones.
In the 11 and a half years I have been living outside Blessington, there has barely been a month in which one party or another of workmen has not been digging up the main road through the town. I don't know why these men are doing what they're doing, merely that they've been doing it, leaving an endless succession of holes in the road and holes in the pavement, and holes in between.
Quite often, these road-labourers also take on the role of the Garda Traffic Corps, and start directing traffic. Do they have any legal authority for this? Any training? Are they insured against any crashes they might cause? Or is that to be left to the insurance companies of the unfortunate motorists who have been directed into one another by a worker with the directing skills of one-eyed Tibetan herdsman who had never seen a car before?
Not that we need to blame immigrants for this. This is an indigenous Irish problem, one that pre-dates the Celtic Tiger, and even pre-dates the Irish State. As independence loomed, Arthur Griffith remarked: "Next step must be the elimination of the Yahoo." Well, the Yahoo remains still in Irish life.
In part, his existence results from the class obsessions of the Catholic Church. The Christian Brothers educated the lower middle classes, and the Jesuits educated the upper classes: but no religious order wanted to educate the unskilled urban and small-town working classes. From before Independence and thereafter, they remained in our little proto-Sowetos, amidst a poisonous dependency culture, in which the pathological avoidance of responsibility was and is perhaps the defining feature.
Why do Irish building sites have the highest mortality rates of any in western Europe? And where do you think the thick Paddy joke originally comes from?
But then add the broader political culture of blame avoidance: the State regards homicidal indolence as a form of white-collar crime, and like white-collar crime, no one ever gets punished for it. So, Patrick McBride fell down a hole, was trapped and died.
The inquest jury in Letterkenny blamed inadequate safety measures around the hole. And there is, surely, a line of command connecting every single aspect of the history of that hole from the man with a shovel to the highest bureaucrat responsible. Someone, somewhere, didn't do their job, and a man is dead.
So, where is the trial? Where is the justice? Where is the vindication of Patrick McBride's life? Where is the public enforcement of public laws? There is none, of course.
Moreover, we all know about the happy fecklessness that sees midwinter "Beware Ice!" signs still in place in late summer, or the "temporary" traffic-lights around roadworks that remain in place long after the roadworks are gone, or the flood warnings from February that are still there after two months' drought in July.
For no one accepts responsibility for these things: workmen walk away leaving ridiculous signs in place, and clearly do not even think it their business to ask their superiors if they should be removed.
Moreover, no one employed by the State is ever legally accountable. Men in greasy old caps wave at cars, and this is called traffic management. The road that is dug up once to check if there is a hole there, is filled in and dug up again immediately afterwards to check if the hole had ever been properly filled in, and is then inadvertently left as a hole once again.
Good men fall headlong into such holes and die there, and miraculously, no one is held to blame for their homicide. Only in Ireland, we helplessly smirk, as another man goes to his pre-dug grave, only in Ireland.