Dr Hearne was interviewed on Today with Seán O’Rourke earlier today.
Rory Hearne: “My analysis is that the Government’s policy and strategy, up to this point, has been inadequate in terms of social housing or even new forms, and what I propose is, and support others, like the Nevin Institute, towards the idea of an affordable rental housing company. That the Government is not doing enough to directly supply itself and what it has done is it’s over-focussed on incentivising private sector.
And by doing this incentivisation, whether that’s reduction in apartment sizes or it’s the Help To Buy scheme to try and introduce demand, that it has in actual fact inflated rents and inflated house prices and contributed to the crisis.
Fine Gael TD and Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar
On Today with Seán O’Rourke.
Further to the Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar’s Welfare Cheats Cheat Us All campaign…
Cllr Gavin Mendel-Gleason, of the Workers’ Party, in Dublin North West, and Paddy Smyth, Dublin City Fine Gael councillor for Rathgar-Rathmines, spoke to Mr O’Rourke about Mr Varadkar’s campaign.
Former inspector with the Department of Social Protection Bernadette Gorman later joined the conversation by phone.
Ms Gorman accused Mr Varadkar of launching the welfare cheat campaign as a means to improve his chances of becoming the next leader of Fine Gael and, by extension, Taoiseach.
She also called it a “hate campaign”.
From the interview:
Sean O’Rourke: “First of all, to you, Paddy Smyth, Fine Gael councillor for Rathgar-Rathmines. Is Leo Varadkar taking, is he taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut here?”
Paddy Smyth: “Not necessarily. The amount of welfare fraud that goes on, estimated by the department, is a sizeable sum. Hundreds of millions of euros, of taxpayers’ money, that is claimed fraudulently. Now, the most interesting thing, I think, about this campaign is the reaction from certain parties. The fact that certain parties can find a politically profitable to condone, if not rightly encourage, social welfare fraud, I think is a very worrying development for our society. As I said, hundreds of millions of euros.”
O’Rourke: “Hold on now, where is this hundreds of millions coming from now?”
You may recall how last April, Justine McCarthy, in The Sunday Times, reported that the Religious Sisters of Charity-owned St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG), at that time, was demanding that the new National Maternity Hospital agreed to “become a branch of its corporate structure” before allowing the planned co-location in Elm Park to go ahead.
From top: yesterday’s Sunday Times; RTÉ broadcaster Seán O’Rourke and Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan
Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan gave almost an hour-long interview to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke.
Her interview followed an article by John Mooney, in yesterday’s Sunday Times, about a 42-page audit carried out by the Garda Internal Audit Section (GIAS) on the Garda College in Templemore.
The report examined financial transactions at the college from 2009 to 2015. It did examine some transactions from previous years but was prevented from carrying out a full audit of those years because of a lack of documentation.
The audit’s results were given to Ms O’Sullivan and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald last September.
In the Sunday Times, Mr Mooney reported:
“It discovered that gardai had rented out land owned by the Office of Public Works to farmers, earning €129,903 over four years, and used the cash to finance garda societies. Meanwhile, European grants were placed on deposit and earned interest payments, in contravention of fiscal rules.
Auditors discovered that 37% of all expenditure linked to the college’s laundry service account in 2008 had nothing to do with laundry. Instead €7,231 was spent on meals and entertainment, €2,150 was given to parish clergy, €1,040 to the golf society and €300 spent on jewellery and gifts. A loan facility was also operated from the account with amounts of up to €500 being borrowed and repaid.
The audit discovered 50 bank accounts in total and said the current system of banking had resulted in a “non-transparent system of accounting”.
In many cases, auditors were unable to obtain supporting documentation to explain payments. There was nothing to explain transactions linked to the Garda College GAA account, although auditors found it had received public funds from the laundry account and a restaurant account.
Investigators also discovered that gardai held directorships in Garda College Sportsfield Ltd, without receiving permission from the justice minister or disclosing their interest, as is required under ethics legislation. What was “essentially a land-holding company” provided €100,000 to the Garda boat club in four transactions between 2000 and 2003.
Further to this…
During this morning’s interview, Mr O’Rourke and Ms O’Sullivan spoke about the audit for roughly 90 seconds.
This is what was said…
Sean O’Rourke: “Templemore, and an audit down there, I mean, that seems to be pretty chaotic.”
Noirin O’Sullivan: “Well, again, if you, it’s an internal audit report so obviously, it’s something that we identified ourselves which is, as you know, is the purpose of the internal audit. But it spans back over 20 years. It’s legacy issue. I suppose it’s accounting practices that wouldn’t meet today’s standards of accounting practices. What is very important is that in the internal audit report, there are a number of recommendations to bring the practice up to par with today’s practice and that, those recommendations are being implemented.”
O’Rourke: “But things like misuse of money, renting out land to farmers, throwing money at – well, I won’t say throwing money, but giving money to societies and other things – I mean was there just too much local discretion, to put it at its kindest, exercised?”
O’Sullivan: “Well, my information, and what I’m advised is, that there is no misappropriation of money or misuse of public money so I think that’s very important. As I say, it is accounting practices that, by today’s standards, would not be acceptable. But it does span back and they are legacy issues.”
O’Rourke: “Coming back to the changes you want to bring about and you talk a lot about wanting to change the culture in the Garda Síochána…”
O’Rourke: Can I ask you in a general way. Do you believe that you, Commissioner, Garda Commissioner Noirin O’Sullivan will be vindicated by the O’Neill inquiry and indeed by the GSOC one?
O’Sullivan: “You know, obviously I, and An Garda Siochana, has always cooperated fully with the inquiry and it will reach its findings. And, you know, again, as I say, I’m satisfied that the process will establish the truth. But I think what’s important to look at is, while that process is going on, what have we done, what have we actually done to make the culture and the environment more supportive. So, we’ve put a lot of structures in place. As I said earlier, we’re learning all of the time.”
O’Rourke: “Ok, but just before we leave that. Now I’ll move toward general points. You can’t prejudge the inquiry, ok, it has to take its course. But you, can you categorically state that you personally played absolutely no role in attempting to discredit Sergeant [Maurice] McCabe?”
O’Sullivan: “Well, I’m on record as saying, from the outset when these issues were raised, that I have absolutely no knowledge, nor was I privy to any campaign to undermine any individual in An Garda Siochana.”
O’Rourke: “You use that word ‘privy to’ quite a lot. And I’m just wondering and, again, forgive me if I sound overly cynical or sceptical, but sometimes people put a formula or words together that sometimes can be designed to conceal as much as it reveals. Now ‘privy to’ – what does that mean?”
O’Sullivan: “I think the, it means, okay, let me translate into what I mean by it, certainly I’ve no knowledge of any campaign to undermine any individual and nor would I take part in any campaign to undermine any individual.”
O’Rourke: “Do you think, as a result of change in culture, that things will work out well for whistleblowers? That they will be seen to have done their job, maybe in a way that is difficult but their careers won’t have suffered and they’ll be proven to be, men and women who will be admired and promoted as a result of doing the right thing?”
O’Sullivan: “Well I think it’s important that, as I say, that we do create a culture and an environment. So, for example, one of the things, the first things I did was, I invited in Transparency International because, again, this is very new and I know that other agencies are looking to An Garda Siochana at the moment for what we have done and what we are doing. We were fortunate as well that the Policing Authority, they were established, looked at our protected disclosures policy and obviously there are different people with different perspectives on the authority and they were able to input into what is now a revised policy but also Transparency International, both as an employer, but also to help us. So, to help us as an employer, to create the environment, but also to help us put the structures and the necessary structures in place. Because the numbers that we have are very small but nevertheless, as I say, we have learned very significant lessons…”
Pope Francis (second left) and Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin
On Today with Sean O’Rourke, hosted by Keelin Shanley, Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin talked about how the World Meeting of Families will take place in Dublin in 2018.
It’s described as the “world’s largest Catholic gathering of families” and happens every three years. Pope Francis hopes to attend.
From this morning’s interview.
Keelin Shanley: “Archbishop, the World Meeting of Families [Congress]. First off, why was Dublin chosen or how did you manage to bring it to Dublin, I suppose is the real question?”
Diarmuid Martin: “I didn’t ask for it. The pope decided that he… I was told the pope was thinking, you know, Dublin and if that was the case, would I, would I accept. And that’s the way it went. The pope himself told me that there were two other…generally speaking, it’s once in Europe and then once somewhere else… that two other European cities had made the request, that he felt that Dublin would be an interesting place for him to come to and to reflect on, on family, family in the church, family in society. That that would be not just a reflection for Ireland but a reflection coming from Ireland for major parts of Europe.”
Shanley: “That’s interesting so two other European cities, they’d asked for it?”
Shanley: “Ireland hadn’t asked for it?”
Shanley: “And yet he came to you and asked…”
Martin: “It was…in a sense…it was embarrassing because I was asked and told under no circumstances to say this, and at the same time, there’s a parallel process going on among Irish bishops wanting to invite the pope and I couldn’t say ‘well, you know, the pope is looking at this’.”
Shanley: “And do you think the pope will come in 2018, at the same time?”
Martin: “He has, he said to me that he hoped he would come or, if not him, his successor, that’s the first thing you have to say, the pope will be 80 next month or in December. So he’ll be 81 and a half by the time this event would take place and, obviously, you know, that poses questions as to what he would be able to undertake at that particular time. One thing is certain that, you know, if he does decide to come, he will come to something, to a different Ireland but also with a very different understanding of what the pope coming to Ireland is about. I hear people saying ‘the World Meeting of Families and the papal visit’ as if these were two separate things. The pope would come to Ireland for the Meeting of the Families – and that would be the primary purpose of him coming and most of his time would be dedicated to that. And when he goes to a country…when he goes to an event, for example, and…in Krakow, he went to Auschwitz and he went the marian shrine in Czestochowa, but if he went there and back in both cases in the morning, there weren’t those huge events that we are associated with the papal visit in 1979 and I think if he were in Ireland going outside the actual meeting, he would go in a framework which would stress that he’s here in Ireland for the Meeting of the Families.”
Shanley: “Right, so it would be a much lower key event than we would have seen before?”
Martin: “A different kind of event. But it’s primary purpose in coming was to the World Meeting of the Families. As I say, to bring a message for Ireland, to bring a message from Ireland for families, particularly in Europe.”
Shanley: “It’s interesting, I mean since he became pope, this pope has been very interested in the family, it’s very much put at centre stage. And yet, when the church begins to talk about families, there is always the ‘well, why are these usually older men, unmarried, with no children themselves, why are they talking about family?’ How difficult is that? That bridge?”
Martin: “I think, you know, we can have lots of discussions around the family and the difficulties of the family as an institution but I think all of us realise that when family, when families work, they bring stability to society, in a way that no other institution does. If you look at the trans-generational dimension of families, the idea of the nuclear family that we had – mother, father, two children, a boy and a girl – that really is a distortion of the real notion of family. Family is the place where values are passed on from one generation to the next, where families bring – through the love and the support they give – within their own homes and in society and, if that breaks down, then everybody should be concerned about it.”
Shanley: “And would that be part of this next World Meeting of Families? The embracing of new types of families, including same-sex couples, divorced couples, separated couples?”
Martin: “If you start going around, looking at a whole series of categories, you miss the important, most of us know, we’re able to identify what is family – whether that’s in Africa, whether it’s in South America or in Ireland. And there’s a huge variety in families. The same thing is, we often say the church is opposed to the idea of family. I’ve gone to meetings recently and one of the questions they ask is: hands up anybody who says their family here is the ideal family? And, of course, we all know that isn’t the case. We all know that there’s imperfection in us, in all our institutions. But does that mean that we have to renounce the idea of having an ideal to which people can aspire? Of having with young people, saying to them, look, this is a vital part of your search for happiness in your life. Get ready for it…”
Shanley: “And what is that ideal? As you would see it, that the church would aspire to in terms of family?”
Shanley: “When you talk about permanence, fidelity, love, you could find permanence, fidelity, love in any type of relationship and I suppose that is around the key issues of family and the Catholic Church. It’s had so many families around Ireland feel that they are not respected equally by the Catholic Church, if they are a same-sex couple or if they are, you know, a non couple or whatever the individual kind of family is made up as. Do you think you will extend out to these families and bring them in?”
Martin: “I think there’ll be ways in which you can do that, but not sort of generalised decrees saying there’s an amnesty for this group or an amnesty for that group..many of these things can be looked at on an individual basis.”
Shanley: “What does that mean?”
Martin: “Well, you’ll have to find the particular circumstances in which people find themselves in and begin to reflect on that and see are there elements which really belong to the church’s understanding of marriage present in people who don’t fully realise those..”
Shanley: “I, I don’t… sorry, not to be..but I don’t fully understand there. Are you saying, for example, two women living together with two children which, if they’re permanent, faithful…”
Martin: “In that particular case, my first concern would be about the two children. And to see that they receive from the church and from society all the support that is there, despite, and, you know, without going, despite the fact that it’s, it’s a different type of relationship to the church’s teaching on marriage. One of the big challenges, if you take, for example, what is it in today’s world, why is it that so many people are not getting married? Why are people afraid of a commitment for life and what is that saying? These are big societal questions that we have to look at..”
European Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One earlier today about the fallout of Brexit.
Unlike some of her colleagues, she was expecting the Leave side to win.
During the interview, she explained:
A lot of people here in Brussels were completely shocked and surprised by the result. I wasn’t that surprised. I was in the UK a few weeks ago and the atmosphere, to me, was much more Brexit-y if I could put it that way, rather than Remain. And I thought the narrative seemed to be going in a particular direction.
Those people that I spoke to, who might have been sort of on the sidelines or on the fence if you like, weren’t finding the arguments of the Remain people very convincing and I think they felt that, after years of the EU being blamed for virtually every ill that the UK was suffering that the people who are now urging them to Remain, they lacked credibility.
But also, mind you, closer to the actual day of the referendum and certainly in the wake of the murder of Jo Cox, I thought that that might change things and perhaps it changed the margin for the result but, obviously, ultimately it didn’t change things.
On the day of the referendum itself, putting my old political correspondent’s hat on, I noticed the turnout was very high and that generally means that people who are more excited or more involved, or more engaged on one particular side of the debate are more likely to vote and I judged that that would be people who wanted to leave the EU.
And also the weather was bad and, again people who aren’t that bothered to vote are likely to be swayed by that so, on that basis, I wasn’t really too surprised.
I think if you’re in Brussels for too long, I think a sense of dislocation happens and most people here, who work in the EU institutions obviously have skin in the game. And they’re not always looking completely rationally at the reasons why people vote in a particular way.
I know I’ve often said to my colleagues and I based it on our experience when the financial crash happened, and things changed so much and particularly I suppose for people who mightn’t have been expecting the outcome in terms of their incomes and so on and that would be the public servants and civil servants in Ireland and the degree to which their living standards plummeted and so on.
I said to my colleagues on a number of occasions, ‘don’t take anything for granted’, you know, ‘explore what’s happening in the UK, there is a possibility that the vote could go a particular way.
But I think because, when you come to Brussels, people get so wrapped up in the project, and some of them fall so much in love with the project that they find it incomprehensible that people, outside, the bubble might not be as in love with it either.
I think also there is a lack of awareness of the degree to which inequality still remains as a big issue, increasingly in many countries, including in the UK.
Of course the mistake is to blame the EU or what the EU does because very often it’s member state’s policies themselves, or globalisation generally that has created that.
But I think there is a lack of understanding and very often a lack of empathy for people who are on their uppers and who feel, certainly in some places in the UK, that they are competing for reduced public services with migrants – be they migrants from other EU countries or immigrants, people who are seeking asylum or refugee status in the UK.”
When I came here, people would talk about the second narrative. The first narrative sort of started in Auschwitz and ended with the creation of the EU if you like.
But that was a narrative for an older generation and I often make the point that young Irish women, like myself as I was in the 1970s, for my generation of young people but particularly young women, that the EU was a liberation for us because they brought in certain laws that made us more equal in the workplace and got rid of the ban on women, married women working in the workplace and so on and so forth.
So my experience and the experience of our generation, shall I say, was generally very positive. But that experience, if it isn’t being replicated among the young generations in eastern Europe, central Europe, even in the UK, then they’re going to become disillusioned with it.
But I thought it was interesting that one of the first meetings, in the flurry of meetings that have taken place all over Europe since last Thursday was one of the foreign ministers of the six founding countries of the EU and I think that was sort of sending out a signal perhaps, hinting at what you’re suggesting there that maybe the whole project has become a little bit strained that something has to happen, something has to give, a more modest union, a smaller union, whatever.
But that Brexit has been the key, perhaps, looking at it in the positive way, to reform that and is going to be positive and, you see, I’ve thought it so difficult now, when anybody mentions a Treaty change, a possible Treaty change, even over something trivial, everybody shivers because the idea that you would get 28 member states to agree on anything seems impossible. So you wonder how you can continue give that sort of strain on a process.
There’s always been a tussle here between the ever closer union people, the federalists and those who say, ‘look, let’s have a much narrower and less ambitious sort of, trading and humans rights and all of that, but let’s not try and strain this too far’ and that will continue.
But I think what we’re going to have over the next few months: a lot of politics has to happen on all sorts of levels before we can see what’s actually going to emerge at the end and no one can tell you definitively what that is.
You have the politics in the United Kingdom, the politics in Northern Ireland, in Scotland, we have our own skin in the game, very obviously and at the moment, Ireland is sort of like in a ‘torn between two lovers’ situation between the UK situation and membership of the European Union.
You also have the French presidential election next year, as you say, what’s happening in Germany, and all of that and then you have the general, ideological struggles or squabbles or whatever, political debate that goes on in relation to how Europe should develop.
But I had felt, personally, over the last while, since coming here, when you have the migration crisis and the financial crisis, you had Greece, you had this, you thought at some point, something had to give in order to rebuild, recast perhaps in a different way.
I made the point recently that, when people don’t understand, they feel stupid and when people feel stupid, the feel hostile towards those people who, inadvertently or otherwise, have made them feel stupid and so they resile and so they become much more isolated and I think the EU has an awful lot of work to do in relation to its transparency, its accountability, how it communicates with the 500 million citizens…
Health Minister Leo Varadkar spoke to Keelin Shanley on RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke this morning following the announcement that An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission for the new children’s hospital on a campus shared with St James’s Hospital in Dublin.
During their discussion, they talked about Irish Water and Mr Varadkar was asked if he’d like Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s job.
Grab a tay…
Leo Varadkar: “The fact that they [Fianna Fáil] went to the wire and threatened an election and not to facilitate a Government on water, I just think is ridiculous..”
Keelin Shanley: “So you think Fianna Fáil’s negotiating point of view is ridiculous – is that what you’re saying?”
Varadkar: “I just, I just think that of all the issues to pick, you know, of all the issues to drive us to the brink of a general election, to threaten not to support a minority government, of all the issues they could have picked like I really thought maybe they would say, you know, that we insist that Ireland must develop a national health service over the next five years, you must find the 3 or 4 million to do it, you know, you need to drop your promises on the USC – not at all. You know it was all down to water charges that cost €3 a week and the worst thing is, you know, and you know water charges are being suspended – they’re not being abolished – but it’s the wrong thing to do. It’s not in the public interest to do this. And yet this is the issue…”
Shanley: “So why are you doing it? Were you not able to stand up to them on it?”
Varadkar: “Well we haven’t, what we did stand up to, we said we wouldn’t give up on the principle of a national utility, we don’t think Irish Water should be broke back and everything sent back to 30-something local authorities, I don’t think even deep down Fianna Faáil believes that that’s a good idea even though that was their policy. And on water charges what we’ve agreed is a suspension for nine months and during that period we will continue to make the case in favour of water charges. And I’m in favour of water charges. I was in favour of them in 2011 and I was in favour of them in this general election and I always told me that this is the right thing they should do and they should pay those and I keep saying that. There’s two reasons: one because it’s the only way people will conserve water, it should be metered and it should be charged for it. And secondly, we actually need a dedicated stream of income to upgrade our water and sewerage services, to get rid of boil notices, to get rid of the situation where we’re still putting sewage into our rivers and our seas. And it’s a real disappointment to me that that Fianna Fáil wants us to go back on water and like it was actually Fianna Fáil in 2010 that started this, before the Troika arrived, they can’t even blame the Troika.”
Varadkar: “Maybe we will have to fight an election sooner rather than later, I’d actually rather we fight an election on those things [economy, housing] then on the issue of water. I just think that would have been a nonsense. I actually think that the people would have been very annoyed about it and would have been, ‘a plague on all your houses’.”
Shanley: “So you think everyone would have done badly out of an election on water. What was your thinking for Fine Gael going to the electorate on the basis of water. You know your option there was either an election or give way on water.”
Varadkar: “Yeah I just, I just think it would have been insane to have an election on Irish Water.”
Shanley: “Would you have lost further seats do you believe?”
Varadkar: “Possibly I don’t know, possibly not, it’s impossible to judge that but like I say, we have an opportunity now to form a minority government it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to be different but, you know, Government’s really tough but it can also give you the opportunity to do wonderful things and things like the Children’s Hospital are exactly why you do all the bad days because there are great days too and you can only do that when you’re in Government.”
Shanley: “Will he [Enda Kenny] lead the party into the next election?”
Varadkar: “Well, he’s already said that he won’t.”
Shanley: “Are you interested in the job?”
Varadkar: “Ask me when the vacancy arises. I’m down on so many other things but, like I say, that’s not for today.”
Shanley: “Ok, Minister Leo Varadkar thank you very much indeed for coming out to us this morning.”
From top: Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness and Brendan Ogle
Fine Gael MEP Mairéad McGuinness and Brendan Ogle, of trade union Unite and campaign group Right2Water, spoke to RTÉ’s Seán O’Rourke this morning about Irish Water.
The discussion followed reports that legal advice – commissioned by Irish Water’s parent company Ervia – apparently shows water charges can’t be abolished.
At the beginning of the interview on Today with Seaán O’Rourke, Mr Ogle accused Irish Water of selectively leaking the legal advice to a national newspaper (Irish Times), before calling on Irish Water to publish the reported legal advice on its website today.
From the interview…
Mairead McGuinness: “The privatisation issue which Brendan raises is for ideological and political reasons and I said earlier, we have politicised this issue far too much. There are over 60% of people paying their charges, it is controversial, I understand that but remember that those who obeyed the law will continue to obey the law and should be respected for it.
And, certainly from a Fine Gael perspective, our position on the water, Irish Water, and charging for water, is clear: I acknowledge that the handling of it may not have been the best of practices but we now have a structure in place which knows what’s happening above ground and below ground. And believe me, it is not pretty. We know where the investment needs to be made and we know where we need to protect our water sources and I think, if that were to be interrupted and interfered with we are going back decades and I think that would be reprehensible.”
Brendan Ogle: “Well the water notices were dealt with in Roscommon through paying progressive general taxation. There is no doubt that water notices are a disgrace, we need more investment, we need to fix the system and the way to fix the system is not to be spending €2.6billion over the next number of years on meters, it’s to put that money into fixing the leaks, protect the water in the constitution and me and Mairéad will agree on all of that. Stop wasting money on meters, stop wasting money on legal advisors, stop wasting money on public relations, put the money into fixing the leaks and protect water in public ownership.”
Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin
Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin spoke to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ Radio One this morning in light of the Regulation of Lobbying Act, which comes into force today.
Mr Howlin said the purpose of the legislation is to allow the public see who is lobbying politicians and officials in relation to public policy.
He said there’s no need for the Act to cover politicians lobbying politicians, saying Freedom of Information requests and Dáil questioning are suffice. See Catherine Murphy for details.
Seán O’Rourke: “New rules governing lobbying come in to force today. These require the disclosure of contacts between lobbyists and the politicians and officials whom they seek to influence. The rules were developed by Minster for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin who is with me in studio. Minister, thank you for coming in. This new legislation was promised and eventually delivered in the form of a bill now, it kicks off today. I think there’s a year of a ‘bedding in’ as it’s being put. What exactly do you hope it will achieve?”
Brendan Howlin: “Well Sean, I suppose it’s part of the suite of measures that we set out at the start of this government to make the whole business of public administration more transparent. The restoration of Freedom of Information, the ensuring that people who are lobbying Government and lobbying administration do it in a very open and transparent way – giving supports to whistleblowers. All these things have been put in place. Funnily enough, if you’d asked me four years ago when I set out, all the different important measures, I would have thought that regulation of lobbyists would have been probably the easiest one and in many ways it’s become the most difficult because it’s a balancing act. Because lobbying is a good thing. In an open democracy, citizens have the right to contact local representatives or national representatives to have their view indicated but I think there was certainly a backdrop of real unease about the peddling of influence. You know whether it was the euphemism of the Galway Tent where some people had extraordinary access and we need to have a regime…”
O’Rourke: “But sure the Galway Tent happened in broad daylight you could say. It’s surely what was going on where people couldn’t be seen fraternising or…”
Howlin: “Yes, I know. There was the Galway Tent and golf outings and all the rest but under this regime, that now will kick in from today, those conversations will have to be registered. You might know that Mr Y is talking to Minister X or special advisor Y or senior public administrator Q in a particular location but you don’t know what he’s saying, now you will. If they make a lobbying procedure under the act, if they’re talking about public policy and trying to influence public policy, they will be obliged to put that out in a public register, who they contacted about what and when.”
O’Rourke: “How far down the food chain does the responsibility lie in terms of say ministers and officials with whom contact has to be registered?”
Howlin: “Well, in the initial iteration of it, obviously, you know, this is going to be a work in progress. It’s not a fixed entity from the start because we’re going to have to broaden this over time. But right now it involves all politicians, either any TD, any Senator, any member of the European Parliament, any Minister of State, any Minister, any advisor to a Minister. It also encompasses secretaries genera of departments, assistant secretaries, generals and directors of departments. I put up my own contact list last night on my own website. And at local government level, chief executive officers and directors of service. It is my intention, as I informed the Dáil, to broaden that net so it will involve, for example, within the next 12 months, principal officers and so on. And then, you know, this is an interesting part of the debate we had. There are people who actually have influence that might not be actually senior. For example, should we include the private secretary to a minister who might actually have a lot of influence without having a particular...”
O’Rourke: “Well certainly where the appointments are concerned, he or she would.”
Howlin: “Well there you are. So. You know, we need to have a bedding in process. The Standards in Public Office are going to commission, are going to administer this whole system, we’ve looked at international best practice. There are only 7 countries as I understand now, within the European Union, that have legislated in this area and we are seeking to be best in class if you like.”
O’Rourke: “So if somebody approaches you, looking for a particular action to be taken that has to be registered. What about for instance, you yourself? As a local deputy for the county or constituency of Wexford, let’s just say you wanted a new operating theatre in Wexford General Hospital or some new facility, would that have to be registered by you or by the person you’re making your representations to. And it would be perfectly legitimate that you would do that.”
Howlin: “No, no I mean public representatives have to operate as public representatives and they’re entitled to the public administration and the public representative work, that’s what we’re elected to do, no more than local authority members would be entitled to do that. It is people who are…”
O’Rourke: “But surely that is central to the whole, you know, fear or at least suspicion that there’s a lot of pork barrel stuff going on with ministers using their own influence with colleagues. Surely that should have to be registered.”
Howlin: “No, I mean, it is understood that every local representative would obviously represent. I mean that’s the definition of local representative. What we’re talking about here is people who are trying to shape public policy externally, who are not elected people. But who are doing it for their own commercial gain. Obviously..”
O’Rourke: “But I mean charities are covered by this. There’s no commercial gain there, I’m just wondering why it shouldn’t apply to public representatives seeking to use their influence. Just tell us about it.”
Howlin: “But, but public representatives…”
O’Rourke: “I mean, for instance, there was a big controversy and your own former colleague who is the junior minister Roisin Shortall in the Department of Health. She took serious issue with the location of primary health centres, as set out by her former colleague James Reily. Now again, should a light not be shone in there about who was lobbying him for the location of these, in terms of constituencies.”
Howlin: “But there would be. That’s the very point.”
O’Rourke: “Not if, for instance, you or Phil Hogan were doing the lobbying.”
Howlin: “No, no, well I mean obviously, the notion that a public representative would receive a lobbying from somebody who wanted to have a health centre on his property, that would be registered. But the notion that the Minister for Health, or the Minister for the Environment would make a discernment, within his elected responsibility about where a housing scheme goes or where, that’s, he’s elected to do. And he’s accountable to the Dail and accountable to his own electorate for doing that. Sure that’s what public administration is about.”
O’Rourke: “Yes, but I’m just wondering, should we not know more about how these decisions are taken.”
Howlin: “But you have FOI, you have Dáil questioning, you have all these matters. I mean it almost goes to absurdity then when our public representatives debarred from….”
O’Rourke: “Nobody is suggesting, and I wouldn’t for a minute suggest that a public representative would be debarred from making representations. But I’m just wondering why they should be excluded from the terms of this legislation when they are the ones doing the lobbying as opposed to the ones being lobbied.”
Howlin: “But patently, you’re talking about ministers. Ministers are the lobbied, they’re not the lobbyists. The dialogue of cabinet is I suppose a lobbying, because I get lobbied every time I walk down the corridor by ministers looking for money. You don’t have to look beyond today’s papers to see that. Is that lobbying? Of course it is, of a kind. But that’s what they’re there to do. To be advocates for health or advocates for education or advocates for their own area of responsibility. That’s how public administration works.”
Irish-born crime writer John Connolly went on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke to discuss his new novel in the detective Charlie Parker series, A Song Of Shadows.
Mr Connolly, a former journalist whose fiction is often graphically violent, was asked about his thoughts on the coverage of the Graham Dwyer trial.
Sean O’Rourke: “John, when you were here, I think the last time but one, I was saying to you that I found the first, I think the first, of the Charlie Parker series fairly gruesome and you were talking about he had developed and how you had developed as well in your own treatment of his activities and maybe now more than previously you left gory details to the readers’ imagination, does that apply in this book as well?”
John Connolly: “Yes, this is very much, there’s very little detail, when you’re dealing with something like the aftermath of the Holocaust you have to be very careful I think, and because you know, people, as you’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, people can read things in the newspaper that I simply wouldn’t put in a book.
I could not have written a book based around the Graham Dwyer trial, I would not have written and I couldn’t write one of the, you know, I think over the next couple of months we’re going to see very rapidly produced, cash-in books about the Graham Dwyer trial, written, a lot of them, by people with kind of moral compasses of lizards, I think, and she’ll be dragged through the dirt again. I simply wouldn’t want to write one of those books and I simply wouldn’t want to put that level of detail in.”
O’Rourke: “Are you entirely fair to people with, as you put it so graphically, the the moral compasses of lizards, in the sense that, em, you know, they will just see it as an act of reporting, that there’s a moral in this, that people will want to get a sense of the great work the guards did, how the case was run and how the system, if you like, there was, justice was seen to be administered.”
Connolly: “I think that’s only a very small part of the fascination with that case. Em, I think, you know, I used to write for the Irish Times, I was quite astonished when I opened the Irish Times at the weekend to find seven broadsheet pages devoted to this case. if there had not been the sexual component to that case, the Irish Times would not have devoted seven pages to it.
If Graham Dwyer had not been this middle class man whom they could explore, and whose nature they could attempt to explore, I don’t think there would have been the interest. The danger when we come to, and look, there’s a historical aspect to this, the danger in those cases is that there is an aspect of titillation to it.
If you read Kathy Sheridan’s piece, which I think is one of the best pieces written about it, she was in the courtroom with people who were viewing it as cinema, the equivalent of going to the pictures, they were bringing in their crisps and they were sitting in the public gallery, they were not going it because they were concerned about Elaine O’Hara and they wanted to see justice done for her, they wanted as much explicit details as possible and we’ve been conditioned for that for quite some time… We’re not that far from our Victorian forbears in that way, our fascination with sex and violence, our fascination with somebody who’s apparently respectable leading this double life, this very unpleasant double life. Those things don’t go away.”
O’Rourke: But do you not think a paper like the Times, and again, like you, I was quite struck by the, the, I thought it was six pages, you say seven…”
Connolly: “There was a feature page as well, I think, in the weekend.”
O’Rourke: “But do you not think they were giving their readers what they wanted on Saturday?”
Connolly: “I … don’t believe that it merited seven pages. I think you can give your readers… you can… well, is that the duty of newspapers, is the duty of newspapers to actually to some degree, and I use the word in some degree slightly cautiously, to maybe pander to some of our worst instincts? While I accept that people wanted to see justice done, and feel that justice was being done in this case, the level of media interest was not because someone had been murdered by a man with whom she had been having an affair, the level of media interest was because we had never been presented with such graphic sexual detail before, and that’s a very, and we’re all curious about it, I’m not pretending to be saintly ,you know…”
O’Rourke: “The man in the office upstairs, before coming down, said that it out-Indoed the Indo. on Saturday.”
Connolly: “It really did. And the giveaway was there was a whole 1000 word section on people who lead sado-masochistic lifestyles. At that point, that was when you knew that was the focus interest of the piece. You can add all the other stuff round it about the police investigation and that it was meticulous and the coverage of that was very very good. The fascination for most people was not the police investigation the fascination for a lot of people was the detail that went with it.”
O’Rourke: “And do you think if he came from a different postal address and if he worked as a tradesman or whatever or was, you know, somebody would not be described as a professional, the level of interest and the level of reporting would be…”
Connolly: “I think the same association would not have been made. I don’t think people’s fascination would have been quite as extreme.”