Would You Buy Snake Oil From This Man?

The practice of one person duping another person has been with us for as long as Time, and we all know the comic scene in the western movie featuring the snake-oil salesman, usually helped by an accomplice in the crowd who is suddenly and miraculously cured of a terrible illness or affliction.

This practice might be old, but it still flourishes today. Sure, a typical day in the Oireachtas is testament to that. Not only does this practice flourish, it is easier now than in days of yore. Before, your sleight of hand was limited by your physical dexterity; today it is limited only by the technology and resources at your disposal.

Like most sleight-of-hand ‘magic’, the trick is in the diversion. If you can get the punter to focus elsewhere whilst the dodgy business is carried out, all that the punter sees is the product of your trickery, without seeing the trickery itself, by which time it is too late to do anything about it.

The announcement by Minister Rabbitte and EirGrid yesterday was an example of your basic sleight-of-hand trickery. Make a bold announcement of ‘initiatives’ and in so doing, divert attention away from the real issues.

The real issue for the governing parties is their performance in the upcoming local and European elections. They are currently looking at a pasting and they know it. They used blackmail and it didn’t work. They used bullying and it didn’t work. It’s time to bring out the magic hat and – dare I say it? – the Rabbitte.

The real issues for the communities of Ireland which are threatened by the GridLink project have not changed. Their health and happiness, their property, their economy, their livelihood, their future and that of their children, and of course, the protection of the natural environment in which they live, and which they love, are endangered by the siting of high power cables in the community. These are the things that people worry about. The fact that a brutal and unjust tax regime and numerous incidents of government and public body corruption failed to unite communities across county lines and political boundaries in the way that the GridLink project has managed to do bears testimony to that.

What are they trying to conceal up their sleeve whilst diverting our attention to the space above their heads? That is obvious – the question about why exactly do we need the GridLink project? And how do you divert attention away from The Big Question? You pose another (smaller and easier to answer) question instead: Should we put the cables overhead or underground? And just as you might tease a dog by waving around its food, you suggest there could be some money in it.

And how do you keep the people’s attention on that question, diverting them away from The Big Question and the fact that it is a smaller and easier question to answer? You appoint an ‘expert panel’, on the flawed logic that people will believe it must be a big question if it justifies calling in the experts. And also because they think that the people in the rural communities are too thick too figure that out for themselves.

Not only is Mr Rabbitte with his magic show telling us how to think, he is telling us what to think about (when he isn’t telling us to keep quiet and listen) and in so doing limiting the conclusions that we can reach. This is text-book sleight of hand, but with our minds, rather than a bottle of coloured water or a deck of cards. The constant shuffling of the deck and the extra ace up the sleeve is exactly the trick of the card sharp. And just as cheap and tacky.

The question I pose is this: – would you buy snake oil from this man?

No? Then tell me why in God’s name would you trust him with the welfare of your family and your community?

About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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3 Responses to Would You Buy Snake Oil From This Man?

  1. Excellent piece Neil.
    You’ve captured what’s going on very well and you’re right it is ‘the protection of the natural environment in which they live, and which they love’.

  2. Patsy says:

    Great article Neil. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  3. Laura Nolan says:

    Loved this piece Neil. Very well done!

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