The death of innocence

The Green Party has had its first blooding in how to manage scandal in public life. Secrecy is the crucial element in Irish public life if a politician or party wants to avoid having to provide embarrassing and far fetched explanations to the public.

And Trevor Sergeant’s explanation (8th item) regarding the illegal supervision of Seanad election voting was far fetched.

Green Party councillors had received an email instructing them to submit their ballot cards for inspection. Because they’re new to power and because they still have political integrity they naively made their outrage public. Tut, tut, first rule in Irish political life – All law breaking must be kept secret.

Sargent explained that the email was sent because of

“a mistaken understanding based on an old rule that unfortunately was presented as the current situation.”

Brilliant, pure Fianna Fail. Just mouth words, it doesn’t matter what they are, doesn’t matter if they make sense or not, nobody is going to delve any deeper. Well, almost nobody.

The situation is simple. For years Irish political parties have been breaking electoral law by forcing councillors to submit their ballot papers for inspection to ensure that deals done are being adhered to.

So what is Sargent talking about? Was there an old Seanad rule that allowed parties to break the law? Does the ‘current situation’ mean that that rule is now outlawed?

How are other parties, used to illegally tampering with electoral law, going to make the difficult transition to genuine democratic practices?

Or, has the Green Party learned the lesson and arrived at a ‘suitable alternative (secret) arrangement’ whereby Fianna Fail can be sure of their pound of flesh?

Ah, the death of innocence.

Fr Ted speak

One of the funniest episodes of Fr. Ted involved teaching Fr. Jack to answer any difficult question he might face from three visiting bishops with the universal phrase

“That would be an ecumenical matter.”

Fr. Ted loved the idea saying,

“That’s the great thing about Catholicism, it’s so vague, nobody really knows what it’s about.”

Bertie Ahern adopted the same strategy recently when questioned about the secret deals he did with the Independents.

“They’re political agreements” or in Fr. Ted speak, “That would be a political matter.”

When asked did he give anything special to the Independents he brought vagueness to an extreme.

“No, these are, but important issues that people lobby for them, you know, sometimes things are in the National Development Plan and are at the end of National Development Plan and people lobby for them and that’s the norm that every politician elected or that supports a government department does.”

Fatal compromise

It hardly needs to be said that being in government is the place to be. It’s the only place where a political party has any hope of getting its policies implemented.

It is also true that a small party like the Greens, negotiating from a position of weakness, could not hope to have all or even the greater part of their policies accepted.

Having said that, however, I think the Greens have made a major mistake.

Yes, they have been waiting 25 years for this opportunity, yes, it would have been very difficult to wait another five years, yes they would have lost credibility as a serious political party if they were seen as uncompromising. But at what price will power come?

They will now serve in a government intent on committing the greatest act of environmental vandalism in Irish history, the building of the M3 through the historic and immensely important Tara-Skryne valley.

They will also be complicit in Mary Harney’s co-location of hospitals. This scheme, which will cost taxpayers countless millions, will, I believe, be seen in years to come as the most disastrous health policy since the savage health cuts made in the 1980s by Charlie Haughey.

Co-location will, I believe, be seen as the moment when Ireland took the American road to health care. Those with money will receive first class care while those without will just have to make do.

The Green’s have argued that they are doing what many of their colleagues have already successfully done in other European countries – joining mainstream politics in order to advance their policies.

But Ireland is not like other European countries, it is a country that suffers to an enormous degree from corruption and there are only two ways of dealing with this corrosive disease – meet it head on and eradicate it or pretend it doesn’t exist with all the damaging consequences that that entails.

The Progressive Democrats, under Mary Harney, quickly realised that if they wanted to stay in power in a state that is intrinsically corrupt they had to compromise on their principles and integrity. In the end, they did this with remarkable ease and are now indistinguishable from Fianna Fail in every aspect but name.

The Greens will have to do the same; they will have to pretend that the raging elephant of corruption is not in the room. Indeed, they have already begun to slot comfortably into the scheme of things. Corporate donations and all other serious reforms for tackling corruption in public life are off the table.

Their spokespersons are already mouthing the tired mantra favoured by Fianna Fail:

“We will have to wait for the tribunal to report.” Or, “These are all matters for the tribunal and it behoves us all to blah blah blah.”

Ciaran Cuffe, speaking on Tonight with Vincent Browne, was crystal clear on the Green’s new policy on corruption and issues of standards in public life.

“The Green Party is not the moral guardian of Fianna Fail or anybody else.”

The bottom line is that the Green’s will have to be as ruthless as the PDs in abandoning their core values in order to savour the few crumbs contemptuously thrown to them by Fianna Fail.

The general consensus seems to be that this government will last the full term of five years. I disagree. I don’t believe the general membership of the Green party have it in them to live cheek by jowl with the most corrupt political party in the county without tearing themselves apart.

I will be surprised if the present arrangement survives its first year.

Quiet Mary

It’s not surprising that Fianna Fail is once again back in government. What is surprising is the strength of the surge towards the party as the campaign drew to a close. It seems that voters were simply not willing to take the risk of putting the economy in the hands of a new administration.

It is likely that the new government will consist of Mary Harney and Fianna Fail leaning independents which, in effect, will be a Fianna Fail majority administration.

Mary Harney, who long ago learned to turn a blind eye to the FF way of ‘doing business’, will be keeping very quiet. She will be only too happy to concentrate on her campaign of setting up an American style health system where personal wealth will be the deciding factor in the quality of treatment received.

Who's watching the watchers?

“Is it normal in peacetime that the Army would access this information in this way?”

asked Pat Rabbitte after it was revealed that the army had used the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) Act to access the personal telephone records of Irish citizens last year.

He further queried:

“Am I the only one who thinks it odd that according to the Data Protection Commissioner, the gardaí made over 10,000 requests in 2006, the equivalent of almost 30 requests daily to access records.”

Oddest of all, however, is that the High Court judge designated to have oversight of the legislation and to report to the Taoiseach, says the documents he has inspected related to those located in the premises of the Army. No report about Garda requests for access has been laid before the Oireachtas, as is apparently required.


Tens of thousands of requests for access to personal telephone records on Irish citizens are made by the police and army.

The legislative requirement that a report on such activities be laid before the Oireachtas was not complied with in respect to the Garda requests. It is not known whether the High Court judge designated to oversee the legislation has the power or the will to question such an omission.

When the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, the man ultimately responsible for the civil rights of Irish citizens was asked if he was happy that proper procedures were in place, he said he could not answer because he did not have the facts.

Previous post on this matter here

Light year promises

As always, Irish Times cartoonist, Martyn Turner hits the nail on the head.

Linking the discovery of an earth like planet with the failure by Minister for the Environment, Dick Roche, to provide clean drinking water, the caption reads:

“They’re going to name it planet Dick Roche as it holds out the promise of clean water, but it’s light years away.”


Imagine the following scenario. You’re living in a country where a government minister deliberately sets out to break the law in order to gain some cheap publicity in the run up to a general election. To achieve his aim the minister recruits a number of fellow citizens, thus implicating them in his illegal activities.

When the damage caused by the government minister is repaired at taxpayer’s expense, he expresses disappointment at such action and accuses the state body involved of being “overly vigilant” in enforcing the law.

Minister of State Pat the Cope Gallagher has said he will face “whatever consequences” for putting up posters around Croke Park in Dublin yesterday, in contravention of anti-littering legislation.

The posters, which also wished the Donegal football team well, were erected on lamp-posts to coincide with the county’s semi-final match against Kildare in the Allianz football league, at Croke Park yesterday.

Mr Gallagher, Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal South West, told The Irish Times he and party workers had put up 30 posters along Drumcondra Road at 8am yesterday. and he thought it “very disappointing” that Dublin City Council litter wardens had cut down all but two of them by 1 pm.

The posters show a head shot of Mr Gallagher with the slogan: “Pat the Cope for Donegal. Donegal for the League.”

Dublin City Council staff used knives on extendable poles to cut down the posters and a spokeswoman for the council confirmed they had been illegally erected.

“If anyone wants to put up posters on public property in the Dublin City Council area they must get permission from the council, so those posters would be illegal. There is also the fact that election posters can only be put up during the term of the election, ie when the election has been called and it hasn’t been yet.”

Mr Gallagher however said the posters were not political.

“There were no votes in them. They were just to wish the team well. I understand it was Dublin Corporation who took them down. I had the idea to put them up on Friday and we had the design cleared by noon yesterday and I picked them up yesterday evening.

“We were out early this morning, putting them up at about 8am. I have put them up and down the country before, and at Dalymount Park in Dublin too in the past.

“I’m not one for breaking the law. All I’m saying is I think the corporation were being overly vigilant,” he said.

Far from feeling shame or remorse for his actions, the minister is defiant and is delighted with the support he received from other citizens for his illegal activities.

Imagine that corruption in this country is so rampant, so much a part of its culture that the minister’s illegal activities go almost unnoticed. There is no outrage, no widespread media reporting/analysis of his actions; no questions asked by his fellow politicians and not even a hint that he might be sacked or face any consequences as a result of his illegal acts.

Imagine, that in this country, the ‘cute hoorism’ of the politician involved, Fianna Fail TD and Minister of State Pat the Cope Gallagher, is accepted as ‘normal’. That many citizens cannot or will not make a connection between this minister’s illegal activities and the massive damage being done to the country by the deadly disease of corruption.

Imagine, in this country, the shock and disbelief of those citizens if it was suggested to them that the minister’s behaviour is part of a culture that can ultimately results in serious consequences for others, like the people involved in this case.

Irony of ironies

After years of passionate campaigning by environmentalists and locals to stop Indaver setting up their incinerators; after years of official backing (sometimes with very questionable decisions) the company itself has pulled the plug because of government incompetence.

Surely, environmentalists will be looking to bottle this official incompetence as a potent weapon in future battles.