A bad week for the State

The luxury of a Dáil majority for Enda Kenny hasn't prevented his coalition from avoiding controversy.

The luxury of a Dáil majority for Enda Kenny hasn't prevented his coalition from avoiding controversy.

Where to begin? The past week’s events, surrounding the resignation/retirement of Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan, coupled with the disclosure of systematic and illegal recording of Garda Station phonecalls for 30 years, has left Joe Public in a tailspin.

A Fine Gael-led government elected on a platform of ‘New Politics’ now finds itself in the midst of the biggest political controversy since Harry Whelehan’s appointment as High Court President by then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

And, in the build-up to the Local and European elections, one suspects that Fine Gael, along with Labour, may now incur the wrath of those jaded citizens still sufficiently energised to exercise their right to vote.

With all of this in mind, I perused Fine Gael’s ‘New Politics’ document and, by complete coincidence, opened it on page 26, which includes the subheading: ‘A Whistleblowers’ Charter’.

It notes: “We believe that the unacceptable practices at the banks and other public bodies might well have been uncovered sooner if such legislation had been in place.

“Although there are limited protections for employees in certain pieces of Irish legislation, there are several problems: Not all employees in either the public or private sector are safe from retaliation if they report wrongdoing.

“There is virtually no protection for whistleblowers in the financial services and business sectors; and there is very little in the way of whistleblower codes and guidance throughout the public service.

“Our proposed legislation will not harm any business that is compliant with the relevant regulations and ethics of their industry.” Fine words, but only words.

Yet contrast those words with the comments of Justice Minister Alan Shatter in relation to Garda whistleblowers John Wilson and Sergeant Maurice McCabe

“Whistleblowers also have responsibilities. Their concerns must be real and genuine, and based on evidence rather than conjecture, especially when allegations made are of widespread criminality in the authority responsible for enforcing the law and are therefore such as to be likely to undermine trust in and respect for that authority. They should also be mindful of the rights of others.”

Most right-minded people, that most Irish of phrases when it comes to discussing the law and politics, would suggest that Messrs Wilson and McCabe, in highlighting unacceptable practices within An Garda Síochána, were being “mindful of the rights of others”.

By sticking their heads above the parapet, in highlighting the ‘I know a fella who knows a fella’ codology which has bedraggled so much of Irish public life for far too long, both were truly doing the State some service.

But that’s clearly not how Minister Shatter or former Commissioner Callinan saw it, when the latter made the following infamous comment, effectively signing his own career death warrant in so doing.

“I do respect the notion that Gardaí, in certain circumstances, should not be investigating one another. That is why we have the Ombudsman Commission to deal with those cases.

“Clearly, here, however, we have two people, out of a force of over 13,000, who are making extraordinary and serious allegations.

“There is not a whisper anywhere else or from any other member of the Garda Síochána, however, about this corruption, malpractice and other charges levelled against their fellow officers. Frankly, on a personal level I think it is quite disgusting.”

That there wasn’t a whisper from anyone else within the force isn’t that surprising. Let’s face it: this is Ireland, after all. Fear can be a powerful ally, after all, and we’ve been bred to fear our superiors here for centuries.

The questionable finances of Charles Haughey and Bertie Ahern were widely discussed within political circles for many years, long before they were seriously addressed by the political press pack.

Nods and winks are the way the ruling classes have run this State for far too long. And I’m just sick and tired of it. Aren’t we all – us ordinary plebs, I mean.

The manner in which swathes of penalty points, believed to be worth €7 million to the taxpayer, have been wiped off the slate by someone within the Garda hierarchy is, to use Martin Callinan’s phraseology, disgusting.

Despite commanding a massive Dáil majority, Enda Kenny has certainly been weakened by the events of the past 10 days.

That Alan Shatter, whatever his ultimate fate may be, wasn’t fired by a Taoiseach who promised to remove ministers who ran into Himalayan levels of controversy, demonstrated weakness.

That Mr Kenny didn’t raise the rights of women while in Saudi Arabia recently (where women can’t even drive a car!) demonstrated political weakness and downright cowardice.

That Mr Kenny attended a Washington fundraiser for Republican Senator Mick Mulvaney, who is a member of the Tea Party Caucus which would happily ship all the undocumented Irish home, demonstrated appalling short-sightedness.

That Mt Kenny has countered practically every serious matter put to him in the Dáil by Mícheál Martin by referring to the “mess we inherited” is as worn out and jaded as we are by the events of recent weeks.

Most worryingly all of all, in a country where our faith in the justice system has now been further undermined, in a country where the Catholic Church has sidelines some of its own whistleblowers, confidence in the body politic has, yet again, been eroded.

GUBU indeed – and there’s no sign of a political white knight on the horizon.

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