Friday 30 September 2016

Justice needs to be seen to be done, but we're all talk

Published 28/08/2016 | 02:30

Perp walk: Ponzi scheme crook Bernie Madoff had to endure public shame in New York on his way to a 150-year stretch
Perp walk: Ponzi scheme crook Bernie Madoff had to endure public shame in New York on his way to a 150-year stretch

I spoke to someone the other day who was appalled, so he was. I knew this because he kept saying "I'm appalled, so I am", in a tone which suggested his disgruntlement should be taken more seriously by those around him.

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The source of his vexation was interesting - he was appalled by Pat Hickey. Or, to be more precise, he was appalled by Pat Hickey's ­treatment at the hands of the ­Brazilian authorities.

Hickey was an old man, he said. He had done a lot for the country, he said (I don't have enough fingers to count the number of athletes who might take issue with that position).

Like so many other people who have suddenly become an expert on the vagaries of the Brazilian judicial process, he was incensed that "they couldn't just make an appointment with him".

There was an undeniable sense that my irate companion wasn't irked that Hickey was taken down, so much as the fact that he was taken down by a bunch of bloody foreigners who don't even know how to arrest someone with the appropriate dollop of decorum.

He's hardly the only person in this country to feel that way, and it has been remarkable to see so many people express serious concern about the way they conduct their internal affairs in that country.

I genuinely don't think this sullen, vaguely pro-Hickey stance is necessarily a sign of support for the man. No, it has more to do with the culture shock they felt at the sight of him being so publicly reefed by the cops in the full glare of the cameras.

We just don't do that sort of thing in this country, so it is jarring to see someone else do it.

That's the irony of the Irish. We like to pretend that we're fierce and independent. We like to think that we speak our mind. We like to think that we enjoy sticking it to The Man.

But these are just comforting myths we sell ourselves to hide the fact that we are, at heart, a nation of sneaks.

For all our sneering at those dumb Yanks and their obsession with lawyers and litigation - they have one lawyer per 300 people - we would be lucky to live in their system where, for all its undoubted faults, justice is publicly seen to be done.

Let's put it this way, when Bernie Madoff was finally done for his Ponzi scheme, the billionaire was led away in a highly publicised perp walk, in full view of the wonderfully snarky New York media and then he was sentenced to 150 years in a federal penitentiary.

Can anyone see that ever happening in this country?

No, instead we set up absurdly expensive tribunals where, incredibly, even the lawyers have their own lawyers to give them legal advice on what they may say or do.

We don't look for answers in this country. We look for excuses.

If there's one thing guaranteed to make the blood boil, it's surely the sight of the HSE, or some other arm of the State, committing some terrible cock up and then holding up their hands and saying "sorry, we can't comment on individual cases".

Everyone, it seems, has a cop out, a standard excuse they recite as if by rote whenever they might be in trouble.

When did we become so craven? Some people put it down to our colonial past and how anyone who could pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities was seen as a bit of a legend.

That 100-year-old excuse is surely becoming a bit hackneyed at this stage?

The problem I reckon, isn't that so many people resent the Official Ireland gravy train - it's that they want to be on board.

We've always had a strange affinity for the blackguard and the chancer.

Effectively, we have Fijian Fat Chief syndrome, the idea that if your leaders are doing well enough to be fat, they must be doing something right. It is, I suppose, a bizarre and oh so very Irish interpretation of trickle down economics.

There's a heart of bitter cynicism beating in this country and it permeates every level of our society. We either know, or at least suspect, that half our leaders are on the make. Yet we react with astonishment when another country does things properly.

I'd love to be more specific about what we could we could learn from the Brazilians.

But I can't comment on individual cases...

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