Monday 27 February 2017

Recognising the difference between a constitutional crisis and a damp squib

Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

'My attitude is to play the ball rather than the man. Let the truth of fair public dealing fall wherever it may'
'My attitude is to play the ball rather than the man. Let the truth of fair public dealing fall wherever it may'

As constitutional crises go, this was a damp squib. There was never much doubt in my mind about the primacy of parliamentary privilege. The unique opportunity for public-spirited whistleblowers to ventilate hidden scandals through their chosen TD is a sacrosanct feature of our democracy - as it is equally in Westminster.

In the 1980s, Deputies Barry Desmond, Des O'Malley and Dick Spring fearlessly exposed irregularities in the beef industry and significant EU fraud through the Dáil chamber. This led to Justice Liam Hamilton's beef tribunal report and subsequent reforms of maladministration.

Similarly, as a prelude to the Morris Tribunal in 2002, Deputies Jim Higgins and Brendan Howlin put on the record of the Dáil serious and grave issues concerning the gardaí in Donegal, relating specifically to the McBrearty family. In both cases, the compelling disquiet on behalf of Opposition TDs was sufficient to ensure unanimous approval for a sworn judicial inquiry. It was a bench mark report, leading to reform of the Garda accountability.

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