Friday 28 October 2016

Ludicrous, cynical gombeen politicians - they haven't gone away, you know...

Published 09/12/2015 | 02:30

'It seems to play into the old Irish stereotype that voters don’t trust anyone who isn’t savvy enough to make a little graft for themselves on the side'
'It seems to play into the old Irish stereotype that voters don’t trust anyone who isn’t savvy enough to make a little graft for themselves on the side'

One of the greatest threats to democratic stability comes not from the threat of external terrorism but from internal cynicism. While it's vital for a well informed citizenry to be sceptical about their political leaders, that can morph into a reflexive contempt which means we tar all politicians with the same brush.

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Watching 'RTÉ Investigates' on Monday night, however, reminded us once more than when it comes to local Irish politics, it's the cynicism of the politicians we have to worry about, not our own.

There was a remarkable and thoroughly depressing sense of déjà vu while watching three prominent county councillors trip over themselves to "get in bed with" a mysterious investment company that, at times, resembled an episode of 'Killinaskully' which had taken a strangely dark turn.

TV stings are the bedrock of any respected news division and this excellent filleting will have gone a long way to restoring the reputation of a broadcaster which has suffered its fair share of embarrassment in recent years.

But this time the only red faces belonged to three councillors who could have come straight from the school of central casting clichés about dodgy dealings on a local level.

Joe Queenan (Fianna Fáil), John O'Donnell (Independent) and the peerless Hugh McElvaney (Fine Gael) were all hoist on their own petard as they fell for the oldest trick in the book - a mysterious blonde called 'Nina', offering shedloads - or in this case, brown bag loads - of cash in return for zoning favours.

Even the journalists involved in the story must have been amazed at how easily these fish took the bait - Queenan's attempts to put daylight between him and any dodgy money were hamfisted and inept.

Similarly, Donegal's thrusting young buck, the self-described entrepreneur John O'Donnell, may consider himself the Donald Trump of the "North West", but his stated reason for wanting utmost secrecy - begrudgers - was the best compliment begrudgers have had in years.

If there is to be any consolation for Queenan and O'Donnell - and in any just society there would be none - it is that at least they were overshadowed by a tour de force of epic gombeenism from McElvaney.

The rural equivalent of Jerry Maguire, he evidently doesn't believe in foreplay as he got straight down to business.

Not for him the tedious dance of veiled corruption, oh no. Instead, during his first contact with the bogus investor he was straight out of the traps: "What's in it for me? How much are you going to put on the table for me? Are you going to pay me by the hour or by the job?"

Interestingly, his initial fee for selling out his constituents was a measly 10 grand sterling - a rather cheap price for your soul and your good name, you may have suspected.

And you'd be right. Frankly, if an elected councillor was selling my area down the river - possibly literally, given previous zoning decisions in this country - I would like to think that it would be worth more than the price of a decent win on the horses.

If one word springs to mind about McElvaney - and there are many, but most would never get past the lawyers - then that word must surely be 'grubby'.

Swaggering with the unearned arrogance of a man who thinks he is untouchable, he made a grim moment truly comical with his behaviour and weird posturing towards 'Nina'.

He hadn't just been caught red-handed in a ludicrous and criminal enterprise. Rather, he wants us to believe he was actually playing RTÉ at their own game and returning his own sting back to them, like some weird game of very unethical tennis.

In fact, as he put it: "I caught RTÉ red-handed...They'll find it incredible. I put PJ Gallagher and Mike Murphy in the shade...It was a piss-pull, what we call 'taking the piss' out of RTÉ."

He is undoubtedly correct when he asserts that we might find his excuse 'incredible', but it does beg one question - where do they find these people?

Is there some hidden, apparently inexhaustible resource which produces these squalid, small-time eejits whose greed is matched only by their own venal stupidity?

It seems to play into the old Irish stereotype that voters don't trust anyone who isn't savvy enough to make a little graft for themselves on the side, and I have the rather depressing feeling that, for McElvaney at least, they will turn this into a rallying cry against the Dublin 4 meeja for conducting a witch hunt against hard-working rural politicians. They don't understand us down there in their Dublin ivory towers, will be his battle cry and he'll have a point.

Because when confronted with such naked avarice and bizarre self-regard, sheer bafflement is an entirely reasonable response.

Meanwhile, in utterly non-related corruption news, New York assembly man Sheldon Silver is looking at a minimum of 20 years after being caught with his hand in the cookie jar. If Monday night's exposé doesn't lead to similar perp walks - and it won't - then we have yet more proof that even after the economic catastrophe of the last decade, some politicians remain dedicated to doing what they do best - feathering their own nest at the expense of the rest of us.

Irish Independent

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