News Gene Kerrigan

Saturday 23 August 2014

Kenny's hilarity is no laughing matter

The Taoiseach has yet again demonstrated his facility for juvenile conduct and untruth.

Gene Kerrigan

Published 04/05/2014 | 02:30

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Illustration: Tom Halliday

A small event occurred last week that should not be allowed to vanish down the memory hole. It involved our dear leader, Enda of the Thousand Cuts. In considering this matter, it's as well to bear in mind that this is the man who on occasion goes into rooms, alone, with EU and other leaders, and with ECB banking warlords, and who reaches understandings with them – the details of which are not revealed to us.

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The incident – it's on the Dail record, it's on YouTube – was a demonstration of our Taoiseach's ability to find a juvenile aspect to any issue, to then tell an untruth about his conduct, and then to try to shush it up with a half-hearted withdrawal of his juvenile intervention.

Mr Kenny has been in the Dail since 1975 – but for 36 of those years we didn't have to worry about him. For a couple of years in the Nineties he was a junior minister for tourism, but other than that he wasn't in a position to do much damage. He was leader of Fine Gael, mind you, but – well, someone has to be.

Then, Fianna Fail wrecked the country and Mr Kenny promised change, so he was elected along with an army of faithful cheerleaders.

Last Wednesday, at Leaders' Questions, Luke Flanagan informed the Taoiseach that he'd been approached by a serving garda, under the Garda Siochana Act. The garda made an allegation of corruption within the drug squad. This garda, he said, wasn't sure he could trust GSOC. He was generally apprehensive about coming forward.

The garda was right to worry. The former Commissioner described whistleblowers as "disgusting". Forced by public concern to appear to give a damn, the Government prepared whistleblower legislation, but the Taoiseach's every move was grudging.

It was in the Seventies that Mr Kenny came to political maturity (in his case, an unfortunate phrase). Back then, and too often since, the dominant culture said it's best to keep your mouth shut. Better to let corruption blossom unseen. To reveal it is to lower respect for the police force/the planning system/the church.

And we know where that leads.

"It was," said Flanagan, "a worrying ordeal for the garda in question to go to GSOC today, given his understandable concern about confidentiality." Flanagan went with him that morning – they met at or went into the coffee shop next door to GSOC, and former garda John Wilson, whose own whistleblowing led to his exit from the force, went along for support (and was in the public gallery during the Dail exchange).

The garda's worry, Flanagan said, "was significantly increased this morning when it became obvious that we were under surveillance by an unmarked garda car".

Flanagan asked a question of Mr Kenny. "What will the Taoiseach do about this, bearing in mind good people are being silenced and the legislation he is standing by is anything but fit for purpose?"

Now, we've no idea if the allegation of corruption holds water. We don't know if that was indeed a garda car. And if it was, we don't know if it was there to watch the garda, or Mr Wilson, or Mr Flanagan or GSOC – or if it just happened to be in the vicinity. There may be an innocent explanation.

What we do know is that in recent years things have happened within the force that are extremely worrying. And concerns about such matters should be treated with seriousness.

What an adult Taoiseach would say would be something like this: "I hope you're wrong – I trust someone took the registration number of the car. I will put a reliable official on this and before the end of the day I'll get back to you with my opinion as to whether this requires further action. Or – and I hope is the case – perhaps there was a misunderstanding."

That's how adults respond to serious matters.

Here's how the Taoiseach responded. "I have no information about, about..." And between those two 'abouts', there was a suggestion of a titter.

"... Deputy Flanagan being followed or under surveillance by an unmarked car. Sharp man to know that an unmarked car was actually shadowing him. Maybe it was not him they had under surveillance."

Now, Flanagan hadn't asked the Taoiseach what he knew about the surveillance. But Mr Kenny was, like any comedian, merely laying the groundwork for his joke.

"Maybe they thought there was somebody dealing." Boom boom.

There was some hooting from Mr Kenny's cheerleaders. Beside the Taoiseach, Michael Noonan left a smirk on his face for some time.

Flanagan believes that cannabis should be decriminalised. This suggested to the Taoiseach that he might make a joke about Flanagan being under surveillance by the drug squad. Mattie McGrath and Roisin Shortall immediately understood how wrong this was, in the context, and asked the Taoiseach to withdraw the remark.

Flanagan protested about the Taoiseach making "a joke out of it".

Mr Kenny: "I made no joke about any comment you made." This was untrue.

The old grudging attitude emerged briefly and he couldn't resist letting us know what he thinks of whistleblowers. "It seems that anybody who has had any connection with a garda over the past 30 years wants to bring forward reports and comments."

He then attacked Flanagan. "It ill behoves you to come in here and make your allegations about treating comments that you make as a joke."

The adults sought to gently help the Taoiseach off the hook on which he'd hung himself. Micheal Martin said the Taoiseach had, "made a remark . . . which could be misconstrued . . . Perhaps it should be withdrawn".

One of Mr Kenny's Fine Gael cheerleaders, a Mr Butler, had to be told by the Ceann Comhairle, "Sorry, deputy, you're not entitled to roar and shout across the chamber".

Mr Butler made a remark about "yer man" in the public gallery, referring to John Wilson. Never, even in his dreams, will Mr Butler deliver the public service John Wilson has performed.

Later, Pearse Doherty said he was disappointed. "I think these issues should be taken seriously."

Aware at last that the adults were embarrassed by the smirking, Mr Kenny then said: "I withdraw any remark that might have given a perception of a joking nature." He couldn't say he'd instinctively made an inappropriate joke about serious matters – the fault wasn't his, it was in those who perceived his comment to be a joke.

He invited Luke Flanagan "to give me the information he has received"; it will be treated "with the respect it deserves".

And we know how much respect that is.

It may well be that what happened near the GSOC offices on Wednesday was some sort of misunderstanding. We must hope it was – in which case, no harm done. Let's see where, if anywhere, the allegation about corruption in the drug squad leads.

We hope it was a misunderstanding. Because if that was a police car, and it was keeping surveillance on legitimate behaviour – officially or unofficially – we are in bigger trouble than we thought. And that's no joke.

Sunday Independent

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