This article  in yesterday’s Telegraph is the most interesting and effective summary (so far, and to my eyes) of the infection of British politics by the Murdoch virus.  The relegation of the role of Westminster to a bit player in policy formation, and an afterthought in policy announcement, has echoes in the Irish political scene.

Here are a couple of extracts from a fascinating article.

During the Blair years, News International executives, Mrs Brooks among them, would attend the annual Labour Party conference, but they were scarcely treated as journalists. When Tony Blair gave his leadership speech, they would be awarded seats just behind the cabinet, as if they had been co-opted into the Government. Arguably they had. The first telephone call that Blair made after he had escaped from the conference hall was routinely to Rupert Murdoch himself….

…There was a very sinister element to these relationships. At exactly the same time that Mrs Brooks was getting on so famously with the most powerful men and women in Britain, the employees of her newspapers (as we now know) were listening in to their voicemails and illicitly gaining access to deeply personal information.

One News of the World journalist once told me how this information would be gathered into dossiers; sometimes these dossiers were published, sometimes not. The knowledge that News International held such destructive power must have been at the back of everyone’s minds at the apparently cheerful social events where the company’s executives mingled with their client politicians.

Let’s take the case of Tessa Jowell. When she was Culture Secretary five years ago, News International hacked into her phone and spied on her in other ways. What was going on amounted to industrial espionage, since Ms Jowell was then charged with the regulation and supervision of News International,  and the media group can scarcely have avoided discovering commercially sensitive information, even though its primary purpose was to discover details about Ms Jowell’s private life.

Couldn’t happen here, of course.  Irish politicians traditionally don’t have a great fear of what newspapers might reveal: the thicker the envelope, the thicker the skin.

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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!

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.



Once more, one is inclined to question what exactly one has to do in Ireland for the courts to consider that a jail sentence is warranted.  According to the Irish Times last Saturday,

A Louth woman who defrauded her employer of €475,000 over a three-year period has been given a six-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.   Lorraine Gregory (37), used the €475,000 in forged company cheques to buy a house and fund the purchase of other luxury items such as an Audi A4 car and a foreign holiday.  The court heard the defrauded company has since stopped trading after years of operating successfully.  Gregory …. pleaded guilty to 23 sample charges of theft and forgery on dates unknown between August 2001 and March 2004 …..

No wonder Ms Gregory appears to be laughing in the photograph published alongside the article.

Lots of questions arise:

  • would she have been jailed if she stole a higher amount, say €1 million?  (Where exactly is the cut-off point for a custodial sentence?)
  • would a man have been jailed in a similar case?
  • is it any wonder we have so few people in jail?  See this post. (England and Wales have proportionately twice as many people in jail.)
  • is it any wonder that there is a culture of impunity towards white-collar crime in Ireland?

I have commented on this issue more than once before, so there is a real danger I will be thought a crank.   It’s a risk I am prepared to take.  To repeat myself : “I’m sure there is an argument that the convicted parties will probably not re-offend.  I’m equally sure that unless people are occasionally put in jail for fraud and theft, more people will be tempted to take a chance on perpetrating such crimes.  These are not victimless crimes: they affect us all by increasing the operating costs of businesses and by costing the Exchequer (ie taxpayers) millions in enforcement costs.”

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.

This from Reuters two weeks ago:

Hewlett-Packard Co CEO Mark Hurd resigned on Friday after an investigation found that he had falsified expense reports to conceal a “close personal relationship” with a female contractor.

What a loser.  Resigning for falsifying a mere 20k in expenses?!  Ivor Callely could teach him a thing or two. 

This just shows the incredible divergence between standards enforced in publicly quoted companies (in the USA at least) and what Fianna Fáil politicians seem to believe is acceptable behaviour from public representatives.

Brian Cowen needs to stand up and state loudly and unequivocally: IVOR CALLELY’S BEHAVIOUR IS UNACCEPTABLE AND HE MUST RESIGN AS A SENATOR.  Anything short of this is totally and utterly shameful.  Just because neither Cowen nor the Government can force Callely’s resignation doesn’t mean our Taoiseach-in-hiding shouldn’t make his position clear.  Oh God, can we just have some proper leadership, before we sink below the moral and economic plimsoll line?

People no longer expect ethical behavior from our Government, and Fianna Fáil has been an ethical slum for decades.  But proper leadership is absolutely essential if people are to accept the hardship which is going to be necessary if our national finances are to be put on a sound footing.  The pain of higher taxes and cuts in benefits has really only just begun. 

Cowen is not capable of providing the strong leadership that is needed if Ireland is to retain its economic independence.  Come on, Brian, resign, for the sake of the country.

Below is an extract from today’s Irish Times, under the heading “Tory peer faces theft charges over expense claims”.

Conservative peer John Taylor was accused yesterday of dishonestly claiming £11,000 (€13,000) of parliamentary expenses, the latest politician to face criminal proceedings in a scandal that shocked Britain……Lord Taylor faces six charges under the theft act for false accounting, prosecutors said. He will appear in court on August 13th. Disclosure last year of taxpayer-funded claims submitted by politicians provoked public anger at a time of economic retrenchment………..Director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer said Lord Taylor had dishonestly submitted claims for overnight subsistence and car mileage on six occasions in 2006 and 2007, falsely stating that he lived outside London when he was actually resident in the capital…………..“Having thoroughly reviewed the eighth file of evidence we have received from the Metropolitan Police in relation to parliamentary expenses, we concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to bring criminal charges against Lord Taylor,” said Mr Starmer.

I hope Ivor Callelly reads this.  I also hope the Irish Director of Public Prosecution reads it and, as I’ve said before, the Gardaí.  If John Taylor MP has his collar fingered by the peelers for a mere £11,000 then our own lovely Ivan is surely deserving of attention for a sum that is about six times larger. 

However, my doctor advises me not to hold my breath.