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.

 

Sherlock Holmes famously spotted the significance of the “curious incident of the dog in the night-time“: the fact that it didn’t bark was of great importance.  But this has nothing on the biggest non-barking dog in Ireland: the absence of any follow-up to the 4-year-old Moriarty Report.

In October 2015, Lucinda Creighton told the Dáil:

It is almost five years since Mr. Justice Moriarty, in his tribunal report on payments to politicians, found that it is beyond doubt that Deputy Michael Lowry imparted substantive information to Denis O’Brien which was of “significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence”. It has since emerged that there has been, for over three years, a Garda investigation following the Moriarty tribunal’s findings of suspected criminality in payments to politicians. Extraordinarily, this has not yet led to an investigation file being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP. No one has yet been charged and there have been zero consequences for two of the key individuals against whom adverse findings were made…….

But it seems that Lucinda may not be completely accurate here: the delay might not be with the Gardaí, but in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  According to TheJournal.ie,

“Gardaí have not begun a full investigation into the findings of the Moriarty Tribunal over four years after its findings were published, it has emerged.  Though Gardaí carried out an initial examination of the report they are still waiting for guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether a full Garda investigation should be carried out.  This has been the same position that the government has been outlining in responses to Dáil questions about the tribunal since May 2012….Identical or almost identical responses have been issued on at least eight occasions to TDs who have submitted queries.”

So what’s going on in the DPP’s office?  Why hasn’t she supplied the requested guidance?  Is her office working overtime on this, as they should be, or is there some deliberate foot-dragging going on?

Three years ago, in a different context, I wrote:

 …the current DPP, James Hamilton, takes early retirement this month, and the Government have appointed Claire Loftus as his successor.  She has been promoted from her role as the Head of the Directing Division in the DPP’s office, and before that she was the DPP’s chief prosecution solicitor from 2001 to 2009.  I hope she can move things forward at a faster rate than her predecessor, but unfortunately I can find no reason to believe that a long and successful career in our DPP’s office is an indicator of a dynamic and energetic character.  Maybe I will be proved wrong.  For the sake of the morale of the general populace, I hope so.

The DPP’s information booklet, available on their website, assures us that “the DPP is independent when making her decisions. This means that no-one – including the Government or the Gardaí – can make the DPP prosecute a particular case or stop her from doing so.”  And the Code of Ethics for Prosecutors is equally reassuring: “Prosecutors shall carry out their functions in accordance with section 2(5) of the Prosecution of Offences Act, 1974 which provides that the Director of Public Prosecutions shall be independent in the performance of his functions. They shall exercise their functions free of any extraneous influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.”

So it would surely be very wrong for anybody to suggest that the DPP is succumbing to political or other pressure to sit on the file until after the election, or maybe forever?  Hmmmm.

As for the boys in blue, we know that, because any evidence presented to a Tribunal of Inquiry cannot be used to secure a criminal conviction, the Gardaí need to start from scratch and produce criminal-conviction-standard evidence through a new investigation.  But why aren’t they getting on with this task instead of using the DPP’s delay as an excuse?  What is it that they want guidance about from the DPP before pulling their finger out?  Are they under pressure to slow things down?  It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the resources being applied to this case within the Gardaí are less than adequate, and that there isn’t any real desire to get cracking.

It stinks.

And meanwhile, poor Denis O’Brien, and poor Michael Lowry, have to suffer the indignity of not being able properly to clear their names after Mr Justice Moriarty accused them of corruption.  I’m sure they are itching to have things brought to a head, and are despairing of the sloth being displayed in the Gardaí and the DPP’s office.

So what can they do about it?  Well, how about Denis or Michael making a complaint to the DPP’s office about their delay in the case?  The DPP’s Information Booklet helpfully tells us:  “9. Can I complain to the Office of the DPP?    Yes. If you have a complaint about how we work, you can contact us at our Office – see contact details on page 16.”

So there you have it.  And if Denis or Michael are too busy to lodge a complaint about the DPP’s tardiness, maybe a helpful member of the public would do so instead?  I’m sure they would be grateful.

 

 

 

 

Conrad Black does a job on Rupert Murdoch in yesterday’s Financial Times – worth reading.  Link here.

The punchline is that “There must be a reckoning with decades of establishment cowardice towards  someone whose nature has been well known throughout that time. The fault is the  British establishment’s and it must not be seduced and intimidated, so  profoundly and durably, again.”

According to the FT, Black is  “the former chairman of the Telegraph Newspapers and of many  other newspapers. He was convicted on four counts of fraud and obstruction of  justice in 2007. He served 29 months in prison until the Supreme Court vacated  the convictions. An appeal court restored two counts. He will return to prison  for 7½ months. He continues to assert his innocence.”

Seems to me that Black would never get a job writing for Murdoch’s newspapers.  He writes too well.

What on earth is causing Fine Gael to hold back on calling for Michael Lowry to resign, or at least condemning him unreservedly?  Or should that be who is causing Fine Gael to hold back on calling for Michael Lowry to resign?  Is it you, Phil?

A letter in today’s Irish Times sums it up nicely:

Madam, – Mr Justice Moriarty described the actions of Deputy Michael Lowry as a “cynical and venal abuse of office”.   All the major parties in the Oireachtas voted for the establishment of the tribunal and now that it has reported, it behoves the Government to take swift action and censure Deputy Lowry in the strongest terms possible. Failure to do so would be political cowardice of the worst kind. – Yours, etc,   NIALL GUBBINS,  Carrigwell,  Carraig na bhFear,  Co Cork.

What possible gain can there be in any hesitation on Fine Gael’s part in this matter?  Lowry has always been more Fianna Fáil than Fine Gael in spirit, and his recent “deal with the devil” during the Cowen regime only confirms that.  I remember hearing about a Lowry-organised fundraiser in the 1990s in the Burlington at which a number of builders and developers of a definite Fianna Fáil bent were seen strutting their stuff.  There was always a whiff of sulphur around Lowry. 

Enda, this will haunt you for years if you get this wrong.  Don’t wait for Leo or Lucinda to push you stumbling in the right direction.  Show some leadership!

I saw this headline a few days ago. Finally, I thought, some sign of life from the various criminal inquiries related to Irish banking scandals.   At last, we would see a degree of accountability and justice!

Alas, ’twas not to be.  Disappointingly, it was about two UK property tycoons being arrested in London as part of a fraud investigation into a failed Icelandic bank.

Here in Ireland, we struggle to achieve a level of accountability which is taken for granted even in Nigeria.  I don’t care how many enquiries we have under way, or how thorough they are, if they cannot move forward at a reasonable pace then they are simply a waste of time and money, while generating justifiable cynicism.

Again we are subjected to Vincent Browne’s regular diatribe in the Irish Times about how income inequality in Ireland (which he believes is due to our uniquely corrupt society) is causing higher death rates among poorer sections of the populace.

This time he really insults our intelligence by poo-pooing the extent to which individuals should take any responsibility for our financial mess.  In a piece with the memorably daft headline  “Society is more corrupt than its scapegoats” he dispenses this piece of bull:  “…the problem is not of personal culpability or guilt, although there has been some of that. The problem is systemic and there is nobody around alone responsible for the system. It is a mindset, a cultural thing, an ideology.  The real corruption here is the nature of our society; it’s a systemic thing, not something particular to some individuals in politics or in banking or in property or whatever….”

So forget about assigning any blame to Bertie Ahern, or Seán Fitzpatrick, or Brian Cowen, or Patrick Neary.  We are all to blame.  We are all corrupt.  We are all sinners.  Everybody is at fault, so our problems are nobody’s fault.

I usually read VB’s columns in the Irish Times, and I do it  for the same reason that I often watch his late-night show on TV3: when he is in attack mode (and he usually is), it provides gruesome entertainment.  I feel a little bit like a spectator in a  ancient Roman arena where gladiators are savaging each other.   It is terrible stuff, and wrong in so many ways, but I can’t tear my eyes away from it.

It seems to me that the logical outcome of VB’s views on income inequality and life expectancy is that either (a) there must be no income inequality (I think that has been tried sufficiently in the last century and found to be spectacularly unsuccessful) and/or (b) that people with discretionary spending power must not be allowed to use it to improve their health and longevity and/or (c) private health facilities must not be available (and it must be made illegal to travel abroad to access same) and/or (d) it is corrupt for anybody who has benefited from good education or a middle-class upbringing to exercise self restraint as regards junk food, alcohol and drugs.

I can agree with him that our medical and social services leave a lot to be desired, and that to be poor in Ireland is considerably worse than being rich in Ireland (although not as bad as being poor in most other countries).    Yes, there are a number of countries where inequality in income levels is lower than in Ireland, but there are many more countries where it is higher.  And to blame the difference in life expectancy mainly on income inequality is a peculiar form of blindness.  For one thing, might both conditions not be a product of an individual’s personality or approach to life generally?  Or might the causal relationship not be the inverse of what VB is suggesting, i.e. that bad health tends to lead to lower incomes rather than the other way round?   It would be surprising if these considerations were not major influences on the statistical outcomes.

But it suits VB’s Weltanschauung to believe that everybody (presumably except himself) is corrupt or irredeemably capitalistic, just as he clings to his romantic, paternalistic view of less fortunate social classes – that they are being ground down by evil capitalists and politicians and are helpless in the face of inequity.  I don’t expect him to change his outlook, however; like most barristers, his views are stubbornly held and are impervious to reason.



FF and “high moral ground”

21 September, 2010

A bitter laugh was to be had from a remark on Eamon Dunphy’s radio show on Newstalk last Sunday.

A panel member (I think it was Ger Colleran of the Irish Daily Star), contrary to the rule that dog does not eat dog,  was giving out about Kathy Sheridan’s Irish Times’ article about Garglegate, and about its coverage of Fianna Fáil generally.  The words he chose to condemn the Irish Times were so revealing: he said that they were always taking “the high moral ground”.

These particular words are usually heard from Fianna Fáil politicians or their apologists and, you no doubt realise, they are intended to be a severe criticism

That sums up the ethical morass that passes for public discourse in Ireland and in Fianna Fáil in particular.  To adopt the high moral ground is to be deviant, elitist, priggish and judgemental (the last being used in its now-normal pejorative sense, although of course the continuation of civilisation depends on people making value judgements, and acting upon them, every day of their lives).

I don’t know about you, but I prefer to be sitting (standing?) on the high moral ground.  In most parts of the world, that would signify that one is taking the side of the good guys, and not the sinners and criminals.  Obviously we do things differently in Ireland.  Or at least they do in Fianna Fáil.