Why are resignations not part of our political culture?
WE’VE been here before. Squire Hockey, Don Berto, Harney, Biffo, Lowry, O’Dea, Flynn, Burke, O’Donoghue etc., etc. – an endless list of fourth-rate politicos who for one reason or another smudged the general estimation in which this little country was held. And now, Dr James Reilly, Minister for Health!
Call our politicos what you like – sleveen, two-faced and unprincipled – but up to now we’ve tolerated their political imperfections on the basis that as human beings they were not too unlike ourselves. They were part of what we are.
But, because of the controversy concerning Reilly’s nursing home antics and his appearance in Stubbs Gazette, that liberal attitude may be disappearing. People are wondering aloud why Irish politicians never admit to being caught out on a sticky wicket, and why no politico ever resigns when exposed to politically damaging speculation and suspicion.
Why are resignations not part of our political culture? Why did the political establishment – Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Labour – close ranks around Reilly, and why did the call for his sacking come from Sinn Féin and no one else?
Even more astonishing is the endorsement Dame Enda gave Reilly. He retained his confidence in him despite being officially named on a debt defaulters’ list. Indeed, as far as our Taoiseach was concerned, everything was tickety-boo. Yet, Reilly has yet to reveal when he will comply with the €1.9m High Court order, which is odd.
Eamon Gilmore, speaking on behalf of the crucified Great Unwashed trying desperately to repay mortgages, car loans, student loans, credit union loans, house-hold debts and Big Philly’s property tax, was more than satisfied with the Health minister. ‘I have confidence in the Minister for Health as I do in all of the ministers who serve this government,’ he pompously announced.
So, Reilly’s political future is secure, despite being the first serving cabinet minister to have a High Court judgement for debt thrown at him, and his name plastered over Stubbs Gazette. A lesser mortal would have fled to Dagenham.
The managing director of Stubbs told an Irish newspaper that he was ‘flabbergasted’ when he saw the Health Minister’s name. ‘Banks are almost looking for reasons to withhold credit. Being named in Stubbs Gazette is regarded as a good reason,’ he plainly said.
And, while it is one thing for Dame Enda to bemuse the natives with suggestions that the seriousness of his Health Minister’s predicament has been greatly exaggerated, it will be something else when he attempts to bamboozle international investors who wonder if they should sink cash into what increasingly looks like a banana republic.
Conflict of interest
For instance, picture the IDA man explaining to a potential investor that the appearance of a very senior minister in Stubbs Gazette was of no significance. Nor was it of any importance that one of the senior minister’s business partners, who just happened to be a prominent local politician and a member of the senior minister’s government party, was also listed in Stubbs.
Sinn Fein, catching the country’s mood of exasperation at Reilly landing in the doo-dah and, being unaffected by calls for his resignation, pulled no punches. They declared he was not fit for his role as health minister because of a vested interest in private healthcare.
‘There could be a conflict of interest when the minister makes decisions in relation to a private nursing home. He has closed down 286 public nursing home beds. If he has a personal interest in private health care provision, is he a suitable person to be health minister?’ asked Deputy Gerry.
Another serious question is how Kenny can continue to advocate high standards in government in light of the Stubbs Gazette exposure and the court order? Can the damage done to the reputation of Irish politics be any worse?
One thing is certain: bar room lawyers are having a field day debating the issue. For instance, in Bernard’s Bar, the punters are devoting much thought to what could happen to a minister who doesn’t cough up what he owes. Jail?
Food for thought
Skibbereen’s most learned pettifoggers are of the opinion that a court has no power to commit anyone to prison for inability to pay a debt. Judges, they argue, are obliged to distinguish between those who cannot afford to repay their debts and those who have the means to repay but deliberately refuse to do so.
Other imbibers point out with relish that successive governments have defended the use of imprisonment in debt enforcement cases where a debtor has the means but fails to obey a court order. The reasoning is that the administration of justice would be undermined if the court order were ‘disregarded with impunity.’
‘Disregarded with impunity.’ Lovely and potent phrase! Food for thought there, milud! And for Dr Reilly!
It was reassuring to see our public reps taking such an interest in that famous lark in the park or, to be more accurate, the Phoenix Park rock orgy of drink, drugs, sex, murder and mayhem.
Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune ‘called on’ the government to introduce a ‘mandatory training programme’ for all retailers of alcohol so as ‘to combat irresponsible drinking’. Wow! That certainly would make a difference: a ‘mandatory training programme.’
Fine Gael’s chairman of the Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, Jerry Buttimer, TD, had a better solution. He ‘called on’ the government to firmly place ‘the focus’ on drug and alcohol awareness programmes in schools ‘so that our children know exactly what they are dealing with’. In Buttimer’s book, that would certainly solve that!
But, his erudite advice paled into insignificance when compared to the profound observations of Social Protection Minister Joan Burton and her overpaid scriptwriters. Here’s what she said: ‘I noticed that some very young people appeared to have been drinking heavily. The debris left behind made that very clear’, she observed in a Sherlock Holmes-style manner.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter noted that the events were ‘very unusual,’ while Enda Kenny wanted to know if the type of music played had any bearing on matters.
Health Minister James Reilly wisely kept his gob shut, but Minister for Public Works, Brian Hayes, fresh from his Clonakilty walkabout and the marvellous snap in this newspaper of him vacantly gazing into space, opined that ‘we need to find out what went wrong.’
Oh, and in an incident that had absolutely nothing to do with the disgraceful semi-feral scrotes in the Phoenix Park drinking, drugging and knifing their way into oblivion, the very respectable Fine Gael Senator Fidelma Healy-Eames was nabbed ticketless on the Galway to Dublin train and received an on-the-spot fine of €100.
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