Fitzgerald: A coward in office, brave in retirement

Writing about the disastrous legacy caused by political appointments to State enterprises Garret Fitzgerald, unwittingly, put his finger on one of the reasons Ireland evolved into a corrupt state (Irish Times).

After the establishment of the State in 1922, according to Fitzgerald, almost all government appointments were made by an independent Civil Service Commission.

In 1926 widespread corruption and bribery in local appointments was brought to an end by the establishment of the Local Appointments Commission.

So, by 1926, according to Fitzgerald, state and local appointments were transparent and accountable – no corruption.

Then, in 1932, Fianna Fail came to power and began to make political appointments outside the framework of the two appointments commissions.

This was the moment when the system began to go corrupt, this was the moment when the Opposition should have shouted stop.

This was the moment when good Irish men and women should have challenged Fianna Fail in the interests of the country and its citizens but nothing was done because of what Fitzgerald describes as ‘a complication’.

Apparently, the ‘complication’ was the fact that after the Civil War hundreds of leading republicans, who continued to reject the new State, had been blacklisted for public appointments.

The reaction to this ‘complication’ should have been – tough luck lads, you backed the wrong horse now you have to suffer the consequences. But Fitzgerald writes that the Fianna Fail action was ‘understandable’.

We can see why Fitzgerald is so ‘understanding’ when we read the next chapter in the corrupting of Irish public life.

When Fine Gael came to power in 1948 it continued the Fianna Fail practice of making political appointments outside of the appointments commissions.

Fitzgerald tells us that this was an ‘unhappy’ development that was justified by Fine Gael at the time by what they saw as a need to balance Fianna Fáil appointments during the preceding 16 years.

This is a mealy mouthed, pathetic excuse. Obviously, the reason Fine Gael continued this Tammany Hall scam was to reward and enrich its favoured members and supporters at taxpayer’s expense. In this respect Fitzgerald’s party is no better than the Fianna Fail.

Fitzgerald claims that when Taoiseach he made some attempt to control the abuse but admits:

We should, of course, have initiated legislation to control these abuses, but regrettably economic/financial pressures during the life of that government plus our involvement with Northern Ireland distracted us from thus institutionalising reform of appointments to State boards – a reform that would of course have involved a huge battle with Fianna Fáil under its then leader.

Again, this is just another mealy mouthed excuse for not having the courage to act in the interests of the citizens Fitzgerald allegedly represented.

A few senior civil servants assisted by some legal experts could have had a reform package on the table for Fitzgerald’s signature in months if not weeks.

Fitzgerald may have wanted to end the practice but he didn’t have the courage to challenge the by then deeply ingrained ‘entitlement’ culture of party hacks who expected reward for their services.

He ends the article with the hope that the opposition parties will commit themselves to reform of the appointments system and other abuses of public office.

Well, let’s see. The abuse of appointments to state boards began in 1932 and has been going on ever since with the active cooperation of all parties.

Fitzgerald was active in politics from 1965 until 1992 which included two periods as Taoiseach and in all that time, despite being aware of the abuse, he failed to take effective action.

Now, safely in retirement, he ‘courageously’ calls on others to do what he himself feared to do.

2 thoughts on “Fitzgerald: A coward in office, brave in retirement”

  1. Greetings.

    It would seem that the rot set in when the 2 commissions did not make strenuous efforts to be seen to be and to actually be appointing from both sides – so that no one (neither victor nor loser) would have an excuse for playing ‘catch-up’……

    And none of the above nor anything in your article excuses the continuous ‘tit for tat’ cycle by supposedly sensible post-Civil War politicians such as Lemass, Lynch, Fitzer etc.

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