Frances Fitzgerald, Tusla, whistleblowers and the Fine Gael Leadership race
20 February, 2017
It’s interesting to see that Frances Fitzgerald is still talked about as a potential new leader of Fine Gael, although most commentators continue to have Leo Varadkar or Simon Coveney as favourite.
No doubt the Irish Times and its cohort of battle-hardened female journalists will do all in their power to keep her name in the frame. They must feel that this is the least they owe to somebody who was Chair of the Council for the Status of Women from 1988 to 1992. You may recall the embarrassingly obsequious profile that the IT’s Kathy Sheridan produced in November 2014 and on which I commented less than favourably in this piece.
Now Frances Fitzgerald is certainly not the least capable of the Government frontbenchers, and I don’t think we need to feel unsafe in our beds at night just because she’s Minister for Justice and Equality. But she doesn’t strike me as having the energy or drive which a real reforming Minister would need for tackling (for example) the corruption and dysfunction that currently seems to infect An Garda Síochána. She certainly doesn’t seem to have done much about it in the 3 years for which she has been responsible for them.
Incidentally, a wicked friend of mine went so far as to suggest that if either our Minister for Justice or our Garda Commissioner were a man, then the latter would have been pushed aside ages ago as a result of the whistle-blower controversy, but (his outrageous theory goes) the sisterhood values loyalty so highly that Frances Fitzgerald will give Noirín O’Sullivan whatever space she needs.
Her 3-year tenure as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, from 2011 to 2014, didn’t seem to be a resounding success either, although in fairness it did coincide with the depths of the recession. At the time of the aforementioned flattering Irish Times article I wrote: “… she, as Minister for Children for the past 3 years, might have been slightly embarrassed by the proximity in the Weekend Review of another article, this one about child poverty, which starts with the words ‘Before the recession, Unicef ranked the State as one of the 10 best places to be a child. Now it is one of the worst, ranked 37 out of 41 countries.’”
Now that I think of it, she was Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, was established with much fanfare in 2014. Yes, that’s the same Tusla that has been so much in the news recently as a result of their “administrative error” which led to spurious child-abuse allegations being created against whistle-blower Garda Maurice McCabe. Small world, isn’t it?
This is the same Tusla which, on its launch 3 years ago, asserted boldly that “This Agency will tell it as it is”. A bit unfortunate, that claim.
That’s also the same Tusla which, like all State agencies, believes it needs more resources if it is to do its job properly. Now I don’t know enough about the details of their work to know if 4,000 employees and an annual budget of €600 million is skeleton-level funding or otherwise. But it seems like a lot of resources in a country having a total population of 4.8 million, of whom maybe 1.2 million are aged under 18.
The promotional brochure for its launch has further hostages to fortune, all sounding hollow in the light of the Garda McCabe embarrassment:
Respect – We will always treat everyone — children, families and colleagues — with dignity and consideration.
Integrity – We will be reliable and trustworthy in the way we carry out our work by: Adhering to the highest standards of professionalism, ethics and personal responsibility. Placing a high value on the importance of confidentiality. Acting with conviction and taking responsibility for our decisions.
I don’t particularly want to knock Tusla, as it is doing a lot of fine work, and any failings it has are probably replicated in most other State agencies. I cite all the above merely to suggest that actions, or lack of action, by Ministers should have consequences in the real world. And anybody who wishes to be considered as a potential Taoiseach should expect that their past record and achievements will be held up to the light for the public to judge their ability fairly.
That goes for women, too.