Mairia Cahill, the legitimacy of the Seanad and the vexed issue of political accountability…

So the final votes for the latest Seanad election are cast tomorrow.

The likely winner of that election (the electorate is confined to both Houses of the Oireachtas) is Mairia Cahill, the Labour party candidate who has been conspicuous by her absence from many of the candidates debates on RTE and elsewhere.

That’s because she’s refusing to speak in public to anyone (including our own southern editor Johnny Fallon) about a story we covered last year.

It’s an issue which was largely (though not entirely) met by a statement released to a range of news organisations on the island but only replicated in full here on Slugger.

Ms Cahill has had two problems to face. One is that the internet campaign against her has been vile and personal in parts and (probably by necessity) went way beyond parliamentarians’ legitimate concerns about her past membership of the RNU.

And two, the abiding ignorance of a southern political and media establishment which clearly took little interest in this story when it was big in Northern Ireland last year. [Partitionists! – Ed] Er, you might say that, I couldn’t possibly comment.

Though here I think the well of sympathy for Cahill as victim of the IRA (and by extension its many hangers on in the media and elsewhere) has some severe limitations.

Again, I’d make two short points. Some of the anger she is facing is from long standing campaigners for reform of the Seanad desperate to give it the democratic legitimacy it blatantly needs. That anger is less focused on the accusations than her refusal to answer as Cahill the politician.

Secondly it must have been well understood by Labour if not by Cahill herself that something of this character would come up given the recent past and Sinn Fein’s reputation for ruthlessness in dealing with its political enemies.

Now dirty tricks were a part of the Irish political landscape long before SF weighed in in the Republic. Whilst journalists must take proper stock of the credibility of some the wilder accusations, there is no substitute to a democratic politician making themselves accountable ahead of acquiring their mandate.

Democracy is a rough business, but the rewards of success can also be substantial. No matter who the candidates are, or indeed what they have been through, the need for accountability cannot be disposed of on purely on the grounds of compassion for previous experience.

The broad and permissive rules of Twitter (and networked bloggers) allow for endless varieties of disruption. On the other hand, as an antidote to a malign and largely artificial virus procrastination often works too.

No one seriously expects that Ms Cahill won’t win the ticket. I suspect that’s why some in Dublin are quietly livid about her ducking this and indeed any other question relating to her bid for the Seanad seat.

 

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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