Every self respecting democracy in the world operates under the rule of law. Electoral law is particularly important because it is based on the authority of the people. Any interference, any sly manipulation of such law seriously dilutes the quality of that democratic authority.
Stephen Collins, political editor of the Irish Times, explained on RTEs News at One (4th item) yesterday how Irish politicians have been breaking the law for years by supervising how councillors are voting in Seanad elections.
This illegal activity is to make sure that the councillors are voting according to deals worked out between the political parties.
The United Nations frequently sends teams of inspectors to emerging democracies around the world to ensure that such vote tampering does not occur; Irish politicians are often invited to join these inspection teams.
They must feel odd to find themselves strictly enforcing electoral laws that they have been openly flouting themselves for years.
Many of the callers to Liveline today (Monday) were depressed as well as angry by the outcome of the Beverly Flynn/RTE scandal. They seemed genuinely puzzled that yet again a politician has got off the hook for wrongdoing.
Later on, on Questions and Answers, there was even more depression when Alan Shatter of Fine Gael received high praise from Willie O’Dea for his strong defence of Flynn.
Shatter claimed that Flynn was the victim of a lynch mob; that people were getting over excited about the whole event and that she should be allowed to get on with her life.
He was pure Fianna Fail on tax evasion when he trotted out the ridiculous argument that all the banks were at it at the time.
The only real passion/anger on the show came from Willie O’Dea when he strongly attacked Eamonn McCann for suggesting that Fianna Fail supported tax evasion.
How could anyone even suggest such a thing?
There is a belief within a good section of the Irish media that the bad old days of corruption are behind us. Planning corruption, for example, is almost always talked about as if it doesn’t happen any more. But of course, it is still rife, it’s just that the corrupt are a little more careful now in case they end up giving evidence before a tribunal.
Sometimes, we get examples of ‘the good old days’ of blatant corruption. The Irish Times recently reported such a case. Members of North Tipperary County Council convened a special meeting to force county manager Terry O’Niadh to break the law.
They want him to grant planning permission for an unauthorised development to a Mr. Duggan, a businessman who has already being convicted for non-compliance with planning laws.
While Fianna Fail is by far the most corrupt political party in Ireland, this case is a reminder that the disease of corruption has infected all the main political parties.
Fine Gael, the so called party of law and order and the Labour party are also supporting this attempt to break the law.
Last week, our Prime Minister was reported as saying that the EU should not pursue countries as diligently as they do to enforce EU legislation. This attitude is entirely in keeping with the Irish culture of corruption. You can have all the laws you want but please, don’t actually enforce them.
We had a perfect example of this irresponsible attitude to law enforcement when FG Cllr Michael Fitzgerald said he thought it was ok to drink and drive. He was supported by FF Cllr Joe Donovan who said that people who engaged in drink driving after ‘having a few’ would never have an accident.
This backwoodsman mindset is common in a corrupt state like Ireland. It was only after thousands of deaths, hundreds of thousands of horrific injuries and billions wasted on health care in recent years that the State finally began to enforce traffic laws.
People living in rural areas, used to getting away with breaking the law were outraged by this law enforcement and complained to their local politicians.
The suggested Irish answer to this Irish problem is to allow rural people in their 40s, 50s and 60s to drink and drive because as Cllr Donovan said – “They never had an accident and never would.”
Meanwhile, the carnage continues.
What troubles me is that they know there is a potential conflict of interest, they just don’t seem to want to admit it.
A Fine Gael county councillor was paid €20,000 for her help in solving a road access problem for a landowner in north County Dublin, the tribunal has heard.
Cllr Anne Devitt received the fee in 2002 for negotiating access to the land across property owned by the Eastern Health Board. At the time, she was a member of the EHB, the tribunal heard.
Details of the payment to Ms Devitt emerged yesterday during evidence given by businessman Joe Moran, whose company Rayband Ltd owned the land at Lissenhall near Swords. In 1993, Ms Devitt signed a motion while on Dublin County Council to rezone Rayband’s land for industry.
Paul Cullen of the Irish Times continues:
Yesterday, the inquiry heard that Mr Moran sought to gain access to the road through the EHB land because his property was landlocked. The company paid Ms Devitt the money in June 2002, after it agreed access through the EHB land in return for building ambulance and day-patient facilities.
Mr Moran said Ms Devitt had provided professional advice and legal services. She had portrayed herself as someone who could solve the problem. She had a reputation for solving problems.
Judge Gerald Keys said Ms Devitt was a politician and there was a potential conflict of interest.
Mr Moran replied that Ms Devitt didn’t do anything wrong.
Judge Keys: “Did it not cross your mind there was something questionable about being prepared to pay a substantial sum of money to a politician who was a member of the council, who would be close to the planning department, who was already instrumental in voting on zoning motions and also a member of the health board, which could come to your assistance?” Mr Moran: “No.”
Judge Keys: “Did it not dawn on you there could be a serious conflict of interest and that the public perception could be that what you were trying to do was to buy her?” Mr Moran: “Absolutely not.” Everything was above board and there were no under the counter payments.
He agreed that Ms Devitt, who is due to give evidence to the inquiry tomorrow, never provided him with written advice.