Stony Grey Soil

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From top: ‘Whiner In Chief’ Monaghan councillor Hugh McElvaney; Dan Boyle

Tackling local government corruption is easier said than done.

Dan Boyle writes:

There were many reasons why The Greens wanted to be in government in 2007. High on the list was to try to do something about political corruption, especially at local government level.

Many of us had had a decade or so experience on our respective local councils. Each of us had knowledge of one or two councillors who just smelled dirty. They wore their being sly, smug and sinister as a badge of pride.

They gloried in their petty corruption. They were the experts in maximising expenses, in seeking to go to any ‘conferences’ anywhere. At these events they would sign in their attendance, not attend the seminar, maybe play a round a golf, but more likely return home.

They kept rum company. Builders and developers seem to take an unnatural interest in council meetings. The corridors were frequented by those engaged in close headed, whispered, conversations.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were the parties that seemed happiest to count these these councillors in their number. This was their Praetorian Guard.

Their devotion to their party gave them the right, they felt, to behave how they liked in public office. The ever loyal party vote would elect them time after time, without questions ever having to be asked. Politics was about tribe, rarely about a better society.

Led by the experience of those of their ilk in Leinster House, many of these sadly all too stereotypical councillors thought this council lark a great laugh. Money for nothing and your (stone) chips for free. Buoyed by this sense of entitlement they felt nothing would ever change. For the most of the time nothing did.

On becoming Minister for the Environment and Local Government, John Gormley immediately made himself a hate figure with these self(ish) made men. Spending on conferences, codified as training, was capped per member. It certainly wasn’t a strategy to elect future Green senators.

He acted upon public complaints on how local authorities were, but more certainly were not delivering services, particularly in relation to their planning departments. He initiated six separate inquiries into differently identified local authorities.

The nature of the wrongdoing varied from failing to provide public information, ignoring public processes altogether, to tolerating built structures bearing no resemblance to the granted public permission.

He encountered many layers of resistance. Firstly from senior officials within his department who didn’t want any inquiries. Negative findings might reveal that as regulators of local government they had been negligent.

The second line of resistance was from city and county managers. Not really accountable to the department or to their elected members, many managers resisted ministerial interference into their bailiwicks. They should be, they believed, the sole arbiters of what was ethical in local government. The blind eye had always served them well.

Then there was the mudguard of the revolution, the members of those councils whose feigned outrage was raised to an art form.

Whiner in chief was Cllr Hugh McElvaney. Monaghan Council had form. John Gormley had already rejected their County Plan, which had zoned many more housing units than they had people. For these councils the ultimate cash crop had become cash.

But what of those inquiries. They still haven’t seen the light of day. Curious that.

Dan Boyle is a former Green Party TD. Follow Dan on Twitter: @sendboyle

97 thoughts on “Stony Grey Soil

  1. ahyeah

    Thanks, Dan. Interesting (if depressing) account.

    I reckon you could obliterate 75% of all corruption by introducing a gombeen assessment before someone can go for public office. Mcelvanny would never have passed my inspection – he’s got gombeen fool written all over him. As does Ahern.

  2. bisted

    ‘But what of those inquiries. They still haven’t seen the light of day. Curious that.’

    …that really is the bottom line Dan…despite holding ministerial power within the relevant ministry the greens acheived nothing.

          1. han solo's carbonite dream

            although not a green I have voted Trevor Sargent every election he ran in.

            I would have joined the greens – i wanted too – but my martial arts is on the same night as the local meetings.
            strange but true , I’d be a TD if it wasn’t for MMA.

          2. Nigel

            Always voted Green when I could. Still fuming they went in with FF because I knew they were going to get eaten alive. But feck it. That’s what happens to junior coalition partners, apparently, though admittedly Labour’s gone the extra mile and eaten itself. Go Greens.

  3. Sido

    Now that the ungrateful electorate sacked these gallant Greens. Their is no one else left to fight corruption.
    Who will save us?

      1. ollie

        So Dan why didn’t you say something?
        You were a councillor, TD and Senator yet you kept quiet. You had ample opportunity to bring anti corruption legislation to the Dail yet you kept quiet.
        When Ivor Callelly was exposed you wanted a public inquiry and were annoyed when Paul Gogarty went to the Gardai, why?

    1. bisted

      …in fairness, Trevor Sargent was one of the first to shine a light into the grubby cesspool that was Dublin Co Council…pity he had to resign for trying to interfere in a Garda investigation.

      1. Dan Boyle

        For the perception of having been seen to. He didn’t. He asked why the victim of an assault hadn’t been interviewed. The assailant was a police informant being protected.

          1. Dan Boyle

            Meaning what? He didn’t interfere in the investigation. As a public rep I would have asked the same question.

          2. Nigel

            The culture of corruption is so deeply entrenched not only in the establishment but in the minds of at least some of the electorate that relatively minor transgressions – for which full responsibility was taken – can be used to utterly tarnish a person and their party as identical in degree and kind to the likes of McElvaney. You may take is as a truism that all politicians lie, but if you want to get rid of corruption you’re going to have to sooner or later vote for someone who stands as anti-corruption. If you’re waiting for a band of saints who never put a foot wrong to descend from the sky and make everything right, then the likes of McElvaney don’t have much to worry about.

          3. rotide

            I agree totally Nigel however, I Was told only yesterday on these fine pages that the non declaration of rental properties was on the same level as asking for a 10 grand bribe. By you possibly? Could be wrong.

          4. Nigel

            Not me, though I would connect them as being part of the same culture – it’s pretty clear they don’t take even basic standard anti-corruption measures seriously, either in terms of compliance or enforcement.

      1. fluffybiscuits

        “Each of us had knowledge of one or two councillors who just smelled dirty. They wore their being sly, smug and sinister as a badge of pride.”

        You have made no mention of any reporting to SIPO (which came into being in 2001) yet were you not a TD from 2002?

        That is what I mean by simples…

        1. Nigel

          No, I wasn’t actually. Unless those were my ‘lost years.’ I’d assumed I’d gone on a drug-fueled crime rampage across seven continents that left bodies and broken lives in my wake, but you say I was in Irish politics? Dear God forgive me…

          (Though it’s interesting to note that you haven’t been paying attention to reports this week about how ‘simples’ reporting political corruption actually is in this country.)

        2. classter

          How do you report somebody for ‘smelling dirty’?

          Who do you report them to?

          The Greens could maybe have done more but hammering them for doing anything at all is perverse.

          Is anybody surprised that it was Phil Hogan who halted the inquiries Gormley ordered? Now, who do I report Hogan to?

          1. Clampers Outside!

            This!

            The corruption, and prevention of its reversal, goes right to the top.

            Phil Hogan is guilty of preserving corruption in this country, which makes him a corrupt official and not fit for public office in my book.

            He is pure unadulterated scum.

  4. Frilly Keane

    If the people of Monaghan ever wondered why they were left out of capital investment and National strategic plans, they have their answer.

    1. Nigel

      Places like Monaghen get left out of National strategic plans, so they elect cute gombeens who exploit their resentment and marginalisation but play the system like a an organ from hell. Cute gombeens who are a national embarrassment are the reason they get left out of National development plans. It’s the CIIIIIIRCLe of LAAAAAAHFE!

    2. Optimus Grime

      Think you are right on this one. Although you should see some of the election literature that is passed to people. Matt Carthy – I want to make Monaghan a decision making centre! The PDs in their day wanted to make Monaghan a “gateway” by building a motorway right up the middle of it. Some of it really has to be seen to be believed.

  5. nellyb

    Thank you Dan for sharing this.
    What’s your opinion on effectiveness of Law Reform Commission? Do they have teeth? Or formula bottle only by the government de jour?

      1. nellyb

        Thanks Dan, but the question was about remit and powers, not what you’d like to see. If you cant talk about it because of potential law suit – just say so. We are familiar with that stuff.

        1. Dan Boyle

          I think it does good work. The problem is at the other end. Their recommendations are rarely allowed to take affect.

  6. john

    …in fairness, John Gormley didn’t just make himself a hate figure amongst that cohort, he finished out his term by making himself similar with everyone else as well – just down to his on self-importance and general incompetence.

  7. fluffybiscuits

    @Dan

    “Each of us had knowledge of one or two councillors who just smelled dirty. They wore their being sly, smug and sinister as a badge of pride.”

    You have made no mention of any reporting to SIPO (which came into being in 2001) yet were you not a TD from 2002?

    That is what I mean by simples…

    1. Dan Boyle

      What we didn’t have was proof. As it happens I did make a complaint on the incomplete register of one member. He went on to become Lord Mayor.

      1. Clampers Outside!

        Do you think the plan to scrap SIPO is a good idea, heard it said on the Six One news the other evening… proposals for a (another one) new body to do the job…. sounds to me like the current govt are just making a new report to deal with it at a later date….. that is, kicking it down the road.

        What they should be doing is giving SIPO teeth as per the proposals (Bill) that has gone forth.
        Made my stomach genuinely turn when I heard that SIPO might be scrapped and some ‘new’ body in its place… there’s no need, just give SIPO teeth to do the job!

        Anyway Dan… SIPO …staying or going, do you think?

          1. Clampers Outside!

            I want that too.

            But, I think this govt is talking about starting from scratch again… which to me is just kicking the can down the road intentionally.

            If SIPO were given the powers they were promised we’d be making in roads into curbing this corruption today…. infuriating to say the least.

          2. ollie

            And there Clampers is the crux of the issue.
            SIPO have no powers.
            PAC has no powers, in fact it’s my opinion that one of the biggest wastes of money in this Dail is PAC. Investigate waste, express outrage, rinse and repeat

          3. Clampers Outside!

            I hear you Ollie, but there is a Bill to give SIPO teeth that has before the Dail for over a year… or more… one which our govt is preventing from being actioned…. put into law

  8. ollie

    I’ll ask again:
    You were a councillor, TD and Senator yet you kept quiet. You had ample opportunity to bring anti corruption legislation to the Dail yet you kept quiet. Why?

    1. Dan Boyle

      We didn’t stay silent. We brought in private members bills. We raised issues in public. We sought in government to bring about changes.

      1. ollie

        We didn’t stay silent. We brought in private members bills. We raised issues in public. We sought in government to bring about changes.

        Raising issues in public is just self promoting waste of time, seeking to bring about change is meaningless.

        A couple of examples of private members bills that were voted into law would be useful, do you have any?

  9. ollie

    Also Dan, when the 2001local authority act was voted into legislation Trevor Sergeant and John Gormley were TDs, yet neither voiced any concerns about the sanctions included in the legislation (which was actually a code of conduct) for non compliance. Yet another opportunity missed to speak out against corruption.
    Therefore the Green Party in the Oireachtas, both in opposition and government, failed to do anything about all of the obvious corruption they were witness to.

    1. Dan Boyle

      So Ollie not saying every word we ever could about corruption, during opportunities you define makes us the problem. Get a life.

      1. ollie

        You were in government with the most corrupt political organisation ever, does that make the Green Party complicit?

        1. Dan Boyle

          One I don’t think FF is any worse than FG, and two I think both are reflections of Irish society which is itself corrupt.

          1. ollie

            Irish Society is corrupt.
            Speak for yourself Dan, this is an old cliché rolled out by those who want to excuse corruption.
            I’m not corrupt and the vast majority of Irish citizens are not corrupt.
            The problem is that corruption is not dealt with and people become apathetic.

            Case in point; the bank guarantee. Why did a government transfer the debts of private business on to the Irish citizens. This was one of the most corrupt acts ever undertaken in this County. Trevor Sargent and John Gormley were TDs, did either speak out against this act of corruption? No.

          2. Clampers Outside!

            “and two I think both are reflections of Irish society which is itself corrupt”

            No, Dan.

            You’ll make me not vote Green next :)

            FF / FG are a reflection of a self serving well healed part of Irish society, not all of it, certainly not a reflection of the majority.

          3. scottser

            so you knew there was corruption, were in a position to do something about it but chose not too? the tar brush is large and unforgiving dan, and your fingerpointing doesn’t fool anyone.

          4. Dan Boyle

            I didn’t say the majority were corrupt but political corruption reflects the corruption that exists in our society. You mightn’t think you are corrupt Ollie but you’re fairly adept at corrupting arguments.

          5. Clampers Outside!

            It might be said, with some confidence, that politics has been corrupt for so long it attracts like minded corrupt individuals to it, and so, it would then be more corrupt by the proportion of representatives in all of politics, than in all of society.

            Society is NOT as corrupt as politics Dan, and to suggest that the corruption in political circles is reflective of general society is wrong. There’s a huge disproportion of money in politics compared to general society – and corruption follows money, so it makes sense that’s where corruption lies.

  10. Michael Smith

    Hi Dan. They were not ‘inquiries’. An Inquiry is a different thing. As instigated by the Greens in 2010 they were weak ‘reviews’. Not into ‘particular decisions’ but into ‘the process’.

    1. Dan Boyle

      And even in the form they were in they were too much for the powers that be within the department. They were kicked aside by Phil Hogan, made weaker by Jan O’Sullivan, and are now being sat upon by Alan Kelly. It was an attempt to ask questions and get answers. The strongest attempt yet made.

  11. ollie

    You said in you piece “He (John Gormley) acted upon public complaints on how local authorities were, but more certainly were not delivering services, particularly in relation to their planning departments. He initiated six separate inquiries into differently identified local authorities.”
    Tell me,
    1. Why did the Green Party wait until 2010 to initiate these inquiries when you were aware of issues in the late 90’s?
    2. What did YOU do in your time as a public representative to weed out corruption?
    3. Did Gormley initiate an investigation into Cork City Council, where you by your own admission witnessed corruption?

    1. Dan Boyle

      Go away you silly man. Both Cork councils were investigated. I didn’t witness I was aware. I had no proof. The opportunity and ability to act on concerns is extremely limited. You should try it sometime.

      1. ollie

        Again with the personal insults.

        “I didn’t witness I was aware. I had no proof. ”
        I was just a Guard, I didn’t know what went on in those buildings. What could one man do to stop this?

        1. Nigel

          I love the ruthless interrogation of the only people who actually tried to do something. Heartening, it is.

          1. ollie

            And what’s wrong with questioning our public representatives, who don’t forget are still getting public money.
            RTE exposes corruption in local politics (and corruption amongst TDs and senators who failed to comply with the requirement to complete their declaration of interests)
            Dan comes on here with his “ah sure I know this stuff was going on but I couldn’t do anything about it”
            Then when he’s questioned he is unable to justify anything he’s written and resorts to personal insults.

          2. Nigel

            Every other comment here and elsewhere regarding the corruption was that everybody knows it’s going on and sure what do you expect. The Greens are different because they tried to do something and for that they must be attacked? For what, for failing? Trying and failing is still more than not trying at all. For not trying enough? Not trying enough is still more than not trying at all.

          1. Nigel

            Questions are valid, but also hostile and negative. The Greens can and should be criticised, but is the purpose behind the criticism to attack the Greens or to learn how to do it better? If we attack and deplore people who have the temerity to try to do something and either fail or only achieve limited results, then you’re hardly encouraging or endorsing more efforts to do something, and such efforts are already few and far between. It’s as if we think the people who try to tackle corruption must see themselves as better than everyone else, therefore they always need to be taken down a peg or three, which is ultimately the sort of thinking that keeps the gombeens in business.

        2. Dan Boyle

          Of course you’re perfectly civil all the time. Your questions are unreasonable. Your belief that the bank guarantee voted on by the Dáil, including Fine Gael and Sinn Féin, was corrupt, illustrates your lack of proportion. Your technique is exaggerate the context of whatever I say is tiresome.

          1. ollie

            The bank guarantee was corrupt. For a government to agree to, if deemed necessary, transfer almost half a trillion euro of private debt on to the citizens of Ireland was one of the most corrupt acts ever carried out because it was done for the wrong reason.
            And your 2 Green Party TDs voted for this corrupt act.
            My so called lack of proportion is irrelevant.

          2. Dan Boyle

            The Dáil agreed to it. It was a valid political choice. There was no one making this decision who benefited personally from its being made. It was not even close to being corrupt. It’s childish to believe so. Just as it is to compare the making of the decision to a boxing match.

          3. bisted

            …and wasn’t poor John Gormley woken in the early hours to be ‘consulted’ on the Bank Guarantee…few citizens have suffered more…and he out partying all night before.

          4. Dan Boyle

            No he wasn’t. Another myth. It was two o’clock in the morning. With the exception of Cowen and Lenihan was asleep. John had been consulted for several days beforehand. It didn’t all happen on one night. Continue to believe the myths if it makes you feel better.

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