From top: Cllr Hugh McElvaney; Cllr Joe O’Donnell; Anne-Marie McNally
Tackling low standards in high places.
Will the government choose party politics over the implementation of a real solution?
Anne-Marie McNally writes:
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck then it must be…..a goat. Right?! Well if you are to look at Irish political discourse in the past 48 hours then you could be forgiven for assuming so.
On Monday night the nation sat with bated breath (I may be exaggerating slightly so chill out in the comments) and waited for the much anticipated RTÉ Investigates programme into dodgy local politics in Ireland.
The programme focussed in on the almost ludicrous shenanigans of local councillors but it’s also worth remembering that a brief mention was given at the top of the programme to a number of TDs who had under-declared their assets on the register of interests.
They had ‘forgotten’ to do so it seems. Funnily enough, as soon as RTÉ mooted its impending programme those same TDs suddenly remembered and appropriate declarations were made. Go figure.
So Monday night we sat and watched as elected officials offered to trade services for payments. Decisions regarding vital topics such as planning were being offered for financial reward –in one case “ten grand – a nice little figure.” We watched, we tut-tutted, we wrung the hands and we shouted things at the telly. If twitter and Facebook are anything to go by, we did so collectively, as a nation.
Let’s call a spade a spade here. Offering to skew a political decision for financial gain is corruption. It is an illegal act. To engage in same is to break the law and to fundamentally undermine the democratic system thereby making you unfit for elected office.
Yet we are still hesitant in public discourse to use words like corrupt or corruption. This morning’s reporting of the issues raised by the programme spoke in terms of ‘breaches of standards in public office’ and ‘possible illegality’.
It speaks volumes that on foot of the programme airing not one of the Councillors featured engaging in these acts has actually resigned from public office (at the time of writing). That you could actually have the gall to hold onto your public office after knowing the nation watched you engaging in those acts is breath-taking but unfortunately not surprising.
The general consensus is that these things come and go; ‘ah it’s a storm that’ll blow over’ being the generally held opinion of those who have brass necks. And why wouldn’t they assume that opinion when they are fully aware that the mechanisms of the State to actually penalise them for such acts are wholly insufficient and when those acts are not even termed as ‘corrupt’ when being discussed in the public domain?
The laissez-faire culture we adopt in relation to corruption – or whatever more asinine term you want to apply to it – is an enabler for those who have spent their political life in the nudge-nudge, wink-wink territory that is so synonymous with Irish life. But it has to stop.
Public engagement in the democratic process is vital – without it we are a democracy in name only however it is unfair and impractical to ask citizens to engage in a democratic process that they simply cannot or will not trust. Legislators have a duty to craft a democracy which brings people into the system rather than shutting them out.
Enda and the rest of the Government TDs and those before them can point to various bits of inadequate legislation and disjointed and fragmented bodies and agencies – but they cannot point to a real and meaningful solution or to any evidence that the current regime has been successful in stamping inherent corruption from Irish political life.
Tonight in the Dáil, at roughly 9pm, there will be a vote on the Social Democrats proposal to establish a one-stop shop, with full investigative and enforcement powers to tackle corruption. The very thing that SIPO officials, and so many commentators say is needed – an Independent Anti-Corruption Agency.
Tune in and watch how many, from either side of the house will choose party politics over the implementation of a real solution to the toxic political culture that pervades our democracy. Then remember that vote when watching the next RTÉ Investigates and wringing your hands – because trust me, there will be another one…and another one after that too unless the lip service stops and the solutions begin.
Anne-Marie McNally is a political and media strategist working with Catherine Murphy TD and will be a candidate for the Social Democrats in the forthcoming General Election. Follow Anne-Marie on Twitter: @amomcnally