After O’Donoghue: More from Duffy’s Circus or real and open structural reform?

I was waiting for the ‘raging Bull’ metaphors in the papers describing John O’Donoghue this morning. Miriam Lord had already unleashed hers a few days back, after Eamonn Gilmore dropped him on the spot last week, and he went looking for a china shop to go and wreck. He didn’t quite do that yesterday, but he did make a fist of trying to justify himself above the insinuation that he was somehow a dishonest man. As Déaglán de Breadun notes in today’s Irish Times his previous tactic of “lying low and hoping the storm would blow over was never going to work as a strategy”.That’s maybe obvious now, but it wasn’t obvious to the Ceann Comhairle (and other government and opposition politicians) over the last two months when the Sunday Tribune (and later Gavin Sheridan and Mark Coughlan) pursued him and other TDs with questions over the probity of their spending.

His excuse: “to ensure that the Office of Ceann Comhairle would not become the subject of political controversy.” Had he glanced across the water he might have realised that there would be no hiding from his past record as Arts Minister, or ultimately his peculiar spending patterns as Ceann Comhairle.

It’s not difficult to see why some on the government’s benches are seething about a wave of Poujadist sentiment that’s gripped some parts of the media. In Senator Keavney’s words there are legitimate issues of ‘natural justice’ (though those words come as per that extraordinary government memo) at play here:

The media submit freedom of information requests to determine Members’ expenses and the information is presented in a manner that outlines, step by step, what Members received money for. The information shows Senators do not receive an office allowance or many of the other allowances available. However, the reasons for the payment of expenses are not explained in the newspapers and only the overall sum of money is referred to.

FOI requests are a notoriously blunt instrument. And not without the means of embarrassing those who rush too quickly to judgement and fail to examine the exact provenance of the information received…

To some, the democratic system, built as it is on compromise and to a degree calculated hypocrisy, is almost too corrupt for reform… Again understandable when you realise that as Nóirín Hegarty pointed out this morning on Morning Ireland after just two and a half years as Ceann Comhairle, Mr O’Donoghue chalked up a cool £250,000 in expense equating to nearly half the £550,000 he’d spent as Arts Minister in five years. She also added that if the other Ministers in the Cabinet had the least bit of integrity, they’d all resign en masse…

But Senator Eoghan Harris, speaking in the same radio segment made a more telling intervention when he warned against the kind of anger currently abroad against the political classes in general and suggested that politicians were merely throwing the politically dead body of John O’Donoghue to the media wolf pack in hopes it would slow them down and praying they will go away… However, he went on to ask:

Is it just going to be a Duffy’s Circus, by that I mean Sinn Fein first, then Joe Duffy and by Duffy’s Circus I mean like the Roman circuses… Is it just going to be one politician pulled down after the other, rather than going for systematic, systemic and structural reform? Otherwise it is not good for people… I know people are angry but that kind of witch hunting degrades a society over time…

Quite. But it is a lesson not simply for those angry enough to want to beat down the once solid but now increasingly porous walls of Leinster House. As Olivia O’Leary noted recently on her Drivetime podcast: “We should know from Northern Ireland what happens when the citizens withdraw their consent to be governed”…

Harris also invoked the French politician Talleyrand who reputedly once remarked that “Treason is a matter of date”… Eighteen months ago, no one gave a damn how much money the Cabinet, never mind the Arts Minister, spent… And neither Mr O’Donoghue nor his colleagues in Government have broken any law or regulation…

They have simply been caught short when the wind changed (or more like a batsman caught out of his ground when conditions in the outfield had changed from the previous season…) The public anger is particularly sharpened with the thought that many will lose pay or jobs at a time when government is perceived to be riding high on the pig’s back…

The problem is and remains the empty suits… There is a severe shortage of consistent leadership from any side of the house… The gap between Labour and Fine Gael positions on the economy is just one of the glaring deficits amongst the opposition..

In the meantime, Mr Cowen has all but gone to ground… No one was more delighted with the roasting the Green party has taken from both the liberal and conservative ends of the press over the last few days for the perceived flimsiness of their Programme for Government than those on the Fianna Fail side of those negotiations…

And yet, the one thing that might just have saved John O’Donoghue from his undignified exit would have been strong message being sent, not just from the Greens, but from the coalition as a whole might have been a pay cut for all TDs

It might have sent a message that the country is indeed ‘all in it together’. Running for high ground whilst leaving your patsies partners to face a tsunami of public rage has worked many times before for Fianna Fail. Except on this occasion Ireland urgently needs a political leadership that’s prepared to turn and take the strain for once.

And the reforms that Harris calls for must be built out in the open not hacked together in the half light of another set of smoke-filled rooms.

As David Steven argued earlier this year in respect of the urgent need for international reforms:

Whatever solutions we come up with, they must emerge from a new engagement with citizens and efforts to develop domestic political conditions that allow international commitments to be made.

Yet the omens for self reform are not good. Even the basic tweaks required to give the Seanad a more meaningful role in the legislative process always end up getting kicked into touch because no one in the Dáil has had the courage to risk altering the current balance of power… Just like no one cried stop when Tom O’Higgins, Chair of the Oireachtas Commission’s Audit Committee drew the attention of TDs and Senators to the Office of the Ceann Comhairle as its budget went spiralling out of control…

The Lisbon debacle saw the Irish political class curiously unmanned when confronted with what are in most other European countries a series of fairly mundane political issues… If that was a wake up call it is clear that their response was to turn over, yet again, and hit the snooze button…

But they cannot avoid getting out of bed indefinitely…

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  • Dave

    The post-democratic, post-sovereign, post-nationalist society engineered by ‘internationalists’ is one where a nation’s affairs are not determined by a people but by an elite. In that world, people are only to be “consulted” and “listened to” in a patronising manner by those who know best but the will of the people is deemed to be ignorant and dangerous and must therefore never be acted upon. You can see the mentality in the quote from Harris, and a dramatic illustration of it in the rejection of a clear expression of the will of the people in Lisbon 1. We have not been dangerous enough. At some point we are going to have to reclaim our democratic rights from those who conspire to deprive us, and if that takes a good old revolution wherein we shoot all of the elites, then sobeit. 😉

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    The boul Olivia had it spot on – he wasnt really defending what he had done in his indignant speech but just fecked off that the feckers who had fecked him over were just as bad as him. Not good tactics in a court of law and not good in a politcal chamber either.

    SFs policy of pooling the money from elected reps looks to be an excellent one – but begrudgery seems to prevent most people from saying so.

  • Gerry Mander

    Nice essay. Liam Mellowes and James Connolly and Rory Brady were all right about partition breeding vipers like these. Eoghan Flip flop Harris’ old buddies in the Sticks would have had something different to say about this in times gone by.

    Free State politicans are the second highest paid in the world, I hear. There are far too many of them, the Senate and Presidency are a total waste.
    The system has it that we are stuck with them, with the Euro fat cats and with the whole carnival of reaction JC prophesized.

  • right about partition breeding vipers like these

    Pray tell, what has any of this to do with partition?

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Andrew Gallagher,

    Rule 1 here in Ireland – always blame the Englezes.

  • “Had he glanced across the water”

    he might have noticed that bloggers and tweeters are giving democracy a new lease of life.

  • “always blame the Englezes”

    Just wait until you read post #6, Sammy 🙂

  • Mick Fealty

    That’s a good story Nev, but it’s nothing to do with the topic above…

  • I wouldn’t say nothing, Mick. Both stories demonstrate the power of blogging and tweeting, especially when in tandem with the MSM. IMO this is good for democracy.

    “FOI requests are a notoriously blunt instrument”

    That’s not been my experience. Mind you, sometimes you’d need a blunt instrument to extract a speedy response 🙂

  • DerTer

    I tried to post this last evening, but the Slugger transition is obviously causing problems. Here goes for a second time:
    Despite great efforts to persuade myself otherwise, I find myself feeling sorry for JOD on a personal level – with his “wallowing in self-pity”, as Miriam Lord would have it. However, his acrid and graceless performance in the Dail on Tuesday was fully in keeping with his form before he became Ceann Comhairle. His record as an opposition spokesperson was little short of disgraceful; to emulate his own florid style, there was rarely a constructive suggestion, just a spew that was by turns pompous, arrogant, verbose, shrill, often cruel and down-shouting, as though negativity was all that opposing the government was about – just ask Nora Owen. As a Minister, he softened a bit – but woe betide anyone who crossed him or made a real score against him. He will of course be reelected by his Kerry constituents.