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Tuesday 30 September 2014

We're all to blame for points mess in nod 'n' wink world

Bending the law could be our national sport – as long as we're given half the chance to do it

Published 30/03/2014 | 02:30

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Niamh Horan pictured for Garda checkpoint story.  Picture;  GERRY MOONEY.   30/3/14
Niamh Horan

CORRUPTION, a bit like charity, begins at home. In our own communities. With a single person, a simple favour, a nod and a wink. The willingness to turn a blind eye.

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In recent weeks, we have been hit by a tsunami of scandals involving our gardai: routinely taped conversations in garda stations across the country; the alleged bugging of GSOC's office; thousands of penalty points offences wiped. They have left many of us asking, "how did it come to this?"

But if we're being really honest, in this country we have a long tradition of bending the long arm of the law.

There's a book by author Allan Pease titled: How to Use Body Language for Power, Success, and Love with a section dedicated to this subject.

It's a point-by-point guide to getting away without a speeding ticket.

Get out of your car and go to the officer's vehicle, so as not to inconvenience him or give him a chance to whip out his ticket book.

Lower your stature so you are at a subordinate position to him.

Show your palms outstretched when giving your excuse, to signal how honest you are. Then tell him how foolish and irresponsible you have been and raise his status by thanking him for pointing out the error of your ways while telling him that you realise how difficult his job must be with fools like you around.

Finally – in a trembling voice – ask him not to give you a ticket. Soon enough you'll be on your way.

The book promises it works 50 per cent of the time.

I can attest to the fact that the author is being somewhat modest.

A friend who was particularly good at it advised me one day: "These guys are human behind the uniform; the last thing they want is to find themselves stuck with is more paper work to file. They're almost willing you to talk your way out of it."

'How many times have you been down the pub and a friend would describe over pints how they got off a speeding ticket?'

How many people reading this have charmed their way out of a speeding ticket or other offence? Sent on their way with a 'have a nice day'?

There's a fine line between charm and corruption. By convincing an officer to turning a blind eye, were we not in our own way willing participants in persuading him to step outside the law?

But we're fine with that – when it suits us.

Let's go one step up.

When the Garda Inspectorate report found that there were "consistent and widespread breaches" of policy by those charged with administering the penalty points system, were any of us really surprised?

The release of a dossier containing a list of 50,000 names who availed of poor garda practice made headlines last year. It showed breaches in processing penalty points involving people who were allegedly later involved in road accidents – serious accidents, where someone was killed.

How many times have you been down in the local pub and a friend would describe over pints how they got off a speeding ticket? Or a garda from the local GAA club who had granted them a favour and made his point disappear?

"Sound fella. I owe ya one."

What about the woman who was let through the drink-drive checkpoint without taking a test, to find an email the next morning from the same cop asking her on a date.

Sure it was funny then, when we heard her re-tell the story to friends.

When you hear these tales – and there were many – did you think of raising the matter with the authorities? Or simply call your mate a lucky git?

In his book The Human Stain, Philip Roth talks about "the ecstasy of sanctimony". He speaks of where a whole country "binges on piety and purity", and a sense of moral superiority takes over.

He describes: "The persecuting spirit. All of them eager to enact the astringent rituals of purification that would excise the erection from the executive branch."

But is it not maybe worth looking a bit closer to home? And the part we all played in this?

In the documentary Unravelled, whilst awaiting sentencing and under house arrest, white-collar criminal Mark Drier gives a spellbinding account of how he hatched a Ponzi scheme which lost $750m.

In it he tries to let viewers see how he ended up facing a life time imprisonment: "It's easy to say you would never cross the line but the line is presented to very, very few people."

An inverted pyramid of corruption has always been in operation in Irish society – maybe in every society. As with any system, the higher you climb, the more power you obtain, and the greater your ability to bend the law. Those in power – be it in politics or the police force – are a reflection of our own tendencies.

We are all in this together – with the ability to make or break the system. And many of us have partaken in it in our own ways – albeit to varying degrees.

Yes, what has emerged is beyond the imaginable, but do you really think the system will change from the inside out? Power is a slippery slope – and we are no nation of innocents.

Sunday Independent

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