Writing about the Bertiegate affair back in 2006 I provided a rational explanation as to why our then Minister for Finance, Bertie Ahern, could speak to a group of businessmen at a dinner in Manchester about the Irish economy, participate in a question and answer session, accept a ‘gift’; of stg. £8,000 from the group and justify his actions by claiming that for the period he was speaking he was not a minister but merely an ordinary private citizen.
People laugh when I tell them, but it’s true. Irish politicians, on being elevated to ministerial office, are issued with a magic Leprechaun wand. This wand is so powerful it can change reality; it can make black white, it can make people think Charlie Haughey was Mother Theresa, it can turn a minister for finance into an ordinary citizen and then instantly back into a minister.
Last week we witnessed the immense power of the magic wand when Minister for Justice Michael McDowell introduced legislation allegedly designed to prevent what some begrudgers claim was Bertie’s prostitution of public office for financial gain.
Now in far away countries where reality is, well, er always reality, this would mean putting severe restrictions on the amount of cash a politician could accept for ‘appearances’. It would also result in the relevant enforcement authority being given the power to actually investigate breaches of ethical standards.
In Ireland, however, such nasty realities were quickly dispelled by a quick wave of McDowell’s powerful Leprechaun wand. His proposed new legislation will allow Irish politicians to accept ‘gifts’ of up to €2,000 (Up from €650) with no questions asked. And should an Irish politician be tempted to accept a greater amount (perish the thought) nothing will happen unless:
Somehow the breach becomes public knowledge.
Somehow it is known that an office called the Standards in Public Office Commission exists.
Somehow it is known that, by law, this office cannot initiate an investigation unless it receives a formal complaint from a member of the public.
Somehow there is a citizen out there who knows this and cares enough to make a complaint.
Out of a population of four million I’d say there are about two citizens who could be bothered. Good odds there for a chancer.
So how could this proposed legislation benefit politicians? Let’s imagine Bertie organised a return match, as it were, with the 25 businessmen in Manchester. Without even needing his magic wand he could collect €50,000 from the said gentleman, all legal and above board and nobody’s business but his own thank you very much.
And if the begrudgers back in the auld sod moaned on about all that standards and ethics stuff he would just wave his magic wand and claim that when he spoke to the generous gentlemen he was just an ordinary Joe Soap but now, magically, he was Prime Minister again.
Shure isn’t it a great little country?