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Dress properly when wrecking the country


There's a bit of a political fight coming up. On the face of it, it's such a stupid issue that no sentient creature should have to spend more than three seconds thinking about it.

But, the way things are these days, it's kind of important that we win this fight.

The fight has, of course, to do with Mick Wallace's pink shirt and Richard Boyd Barrett's trousers.

The significance of this nonsensical showdown occurred to me the other night, watching Vincent Browne on TV3, checking out the next day's newspapers.

Vincent mentioned the story about Garda breath-testing. It appears that the cops claimed to have done about two million breath tests but they'd in fact done only about a million.

If there are a million instances of false evidence being recorded by officers of the law, well - it's hard to see how the criminal justice system can continue to function.

Each time gardai assure a court that they'll tell the truth, and the whole truth, their oath will be seen in the light of the million fictitious events that their colleagues in the force claimed occurred.

On the Vincent Browne show, a Fine Gael politician immediately piped up, assuring us that the vast majority of the Garda rank and file are upstanding people.

There are times when sheer despair seems an appropriate response.

You could almost hear the mental gears clicking into place.

I'm Fine Gael. Click. Fine Gael is the Law and Order Party. Click. Must defend the credibility of the guards. Click. There may be minor flaws. Click. But the vast majority of the rank and file... click, click, click.


Yes, there are decent guards who operate to proper standards - but, come on...

It's not the same half-dozen "bad apples" who are responsible for one Garda scandal after another.

And there may be good reasons for Noirin O'Sullivan to resign, but there are lots of issues that long pre-date her stewardship.

The evidence of Garda scandals keeps coming in waves. And it tells us the Garda rank and file is steeped in a culture that breeds slipshod work, arrogance towards the law and contempt for civilians.

We would not tolerate these standards in a workforce making tea-towels. Tolerating such standards in a police force is not respecting law and order, it's disrespecting the very concept.

I can't remember that Fine Gael politician's name - it doesn't matter, the parties are full of such politicians. These people will never improve anything - they are locked into a need to keep things as they are.

It's remarkable how so many TDs outside the FF/FG/Lab cartel have an ability to grasp the bigger picture, while those in the cartel resort to knee-jerk cliche.

Since the election of Independent and left-wing TDs in 2011, there have been sustained political attempts to - for instance - hold the Garda force to account and to protect honest cops who seek to enforce proper standards.

Such reforms have not originated with the parties of the old politics, nor will they.

It's the old politics that minced the economy, turned the country over to bankers, put gamblers in control of housing, made a balls of the public health system and corrupted the Garda force.

In 2011, with the country in rag order, we quite rightly kicked the bejaysus out of Fianna Fail. As one angry man said just before the election, when he denounced the Fianna Fail austerity policies: they "punished the blind, disabled, widows, carers and the unemployed and... taxed the poorest at work... so that the taxpayer can take on liability for debts the country never incurred, and arose from private arrangements between private institutions. What a disaster and an obscenity. How can the Government stand over it?"

The angry man was Michael Noonan. Within weeks he was Minister for Finance, implementing precisely the same policies he had denounced.

So, in 2016, we quite rightly kicked the bejaysus out of Fine Gael and left Labour rotting in a ditch.

With Fine Gael and Fianna Fail now operating a political cartel arrangement, the opposition has consisted of Sinn Fein, the left-wing TDs, the Social Democrats and some Independent TDs. From the first appearance of a significant opposition, the old politics has sought to disrespect, sideline and disparage all of these.

Not on a policy basis, but - in the case of some TDs - on the basis of what they wear. A number of TDs don't bother wearing special clothes for attending the Dail. There's no statement involved, it's just a recognition that dressing in business clothes is an old-fashioned habit that in itself has no significance.

This has greatly irritated some FG and Labour people. Mick Wallace's pink shirt got them very worked up over the years. They've also taken great exception to the fact that Richard Boyd Barrett doesn't tuck his shirt into his trousers.

They've had meetings, sent memos, written letters - these people have spent significant periods of actual time from their short lives thinking about Richard Boyd Barrett's trousers. This is not healthy.

There have been several formal attempts to impose a "dress code", all of which have failed. This, of course, isn't really about clothes.

It's about status and control.

The failed attempts to impose a "dress code" would have specifically required TDs to wear business suits. Adults, tribunes of democracy, have demanded of others, "dress as we do, or we'll impose penalties".

Now, a Dail Committee has been preparing a 45-page report that will allow the old politics to have another go at exerting its dominance through clothing.

Of course, this is not about what anyone wears - it's about one political entity seeking to enforce its dominance on another.

Yes, it's wearying and silly, but it's real.

Penalties will be imposed, persistent refusal to dress like bankers may see TDs refused entry to the Dail.

A couple of months ago, a number of women were refused admission to the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, because they allegedly contravened the "dress code". Keeping them out was deemed to be "protecting the Knesset's dignity".

Ming Flanagan, once an Independent TD, now an MEP, recently wrote a piece about the de-legitimising of opposition TDs.

There are, he wrote, politicians the media deem to be an "acceptable" opposition, and those with whom the media are uncomfortable. I can't disagree with that.

Flanagan gave an example of the hard work of Clare Daly and Mick Wallace in assembling evidence that exposed problems in the Garda - and how much of the media remained uneasy with this. And when Micheal Martin or - latterly - Brendan Howlin stepped in the media found them acceptable and gave them credit for work done by others.

There's a message being sent out, Flanagan wrote. Insisting that some TDs don't dress right, or their work has to be somehow validated by someone in a suit, tells us that we should vote "only for someone within the very limited spectrum that is Fianna Fail, Fine Gael or Labour. That's the spectrum our media understands, that is the spectrum which itself has an understanding with the media".

Again, the truth of this is self-evident.

The search for a dress code that can be used to bully "unacceptable" TDs isn't just a waste of time and money. It's a political manoeuvre that pretends to venerate parliamentary dignity, while seeking to neuter democracy.

Sunday Independent