Fintan O’Toole’s crisp review of the vast sweep of Irish corruption exposed in the era of tribunals mainly speaks for itself. As he shows, exposure alone does not lead inexorably to reform. Three questions: Can any Irish government and parliament, never mind one under such pressure of circumstances, summon up the massive political capital required to change the culture? If not, can the outside onlooker be blamed for concluding that these people aren’t fit to govern themselves? While the Celtic tiger roared, it might have seemed that the ends justified the means. Three years ago, it was becoming clear that the house was built on a rotten foundation of manipulating EU subsidies, unsustainable loans and personal corruption. To adapt a phrase about the banks, Haughey was too big to go down. But he was no exception: he set the standard of impunity.
With all their own glaring faults, could northern unionists and surreptitiously, a lot of nationalists, be blamed if they always want to keep this lot at a long arm’s length? What a pity that the south has played so spectacularly to old northern unionist prejudices, but it must be faced. It’s a grim thought that if the south had been in its present predicament in the decade after 1997, the Good Friday and St Andrew’s Agreements might well not have been concluded due to southern political weakness.
Today North-south relations particularly over moves towards economic and fiscal integration, can’t progress as if nothing has happened. The reach of Nama in the north is only one small reason why not. The south has a vast amount to do to build confidence in itself and with its closest neighbours.
From Fintan O’Toole
The question posed explicitly by O’Brien and Dunne this week was stunningly brazen but entirely apt: if all this is true, why am I not in jail?
THE BULLISH behaviour of Lowry, O’Brien and Dunne this week was that of men who know they have nothing to fear. We now know that, on the whole, exposure is not a mortal wound. It is just a passing fever
. Charles Haughey’s astonishing venality (he took in the equivalent of almost €50 million during his political career) was exposed by the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals. He was not prosecuted, either for evading tax on his vast secret income or for lying to the tribunals. Instead he was given a State funeral and hailed at his graveside by his successor Bertie Ahern as “a patriot to his fingertips
Michael Lowry has become a local hero. His ambitions to be taoiseach were derailed by the scandal, but his vote has substantially increased since he was first exposed. In 1992, when he was apparently untainted, he got 7,400 votes in North Tipperary. Last month he got 14,100 votes – almost twice as many.
Reformers like Eoin O’Malley doubt the new coalition’s capacity for reform. It’s early days. Perhaps he will be proved wrong.
The fact that no minister was appointed to drive the reform agenda might indicate a lack of commitment.
The proposals in the Labour-Fine Gael programme for government will affect the opportunity to scrutinise government, but without more radical changes in the separation of powers, the incentive for the government backbenchers to do anything is limited.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London