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Truths, damned truths and statistics

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

One of the functions of a solicitor is to make the significant visible. On occasions this is easy; on others it is hard. It is easier if there is universal, or near-universal, acceptance of some aspect of reality. Much of reality is banal and the banal lacks significance, although it is true.

“Truth”, therefore must be selected for its significance.

It is reputed that the highest truth, an undeniable truth, is “Gospel truth”, but this reputation will not run very far when Gershwin can write in “It Ain’t Necessarily So”

It ain’t necessarily so
It ain’t necessarily so
The t’ings dat yo’ li’ble
To read in de Bible,
It ain’t necessarily so.

There are some significant truths in the campaign on the abolition of the Seanad. We need an analogy to understand the first truth. If a doctor claims to have cured a patient, now promptly dead, we reject her meaning of “cured”. “Cured” implies restoration to health. “Health” is ambiguous but not so much that it includes death.

So, by analogy, reform of the Seanad does not extend to its abolition. The Government’s representatives expressly claim otherwise.

The second truth is the need to distinguish between “cost” and “savings”.

The Government, publicly, has claimed that the proposed abolition of the Seanad will save €20 million annually.

The Houses of the Oireachtas Commission has expressly warned parties that there is a distinction between costs and savings. In short, abolition of the Seanad will not be a saving on its costs. (If the costs are €20 million, the savings are much less.)

The Government now claims that they were disseminating a truth (much doubted, it seems) that the annual cost of the Seanad was €20 million.

A Government TD has admitted that the Government claim, of savings, was wrong.

In Ireland, even official truths are not true, despite being officially acknowledged, it seems.

We see now that the Government’s claim of a saving of €20 million was and is a factoid (an assumption or speculation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact).