Friday 20 April 2018

Public grilling makes for gripping viewing

Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Keep your reality TV docudramas and fly-on-the-wall shows -- this is the real thing. Really.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings broadcast live by RTE were gripping in a way few people would have foreseen. And why would they?

Oireachtas Report is more boring than, well, wading through an Oireachtas report. And wasn't this just more of the same? Dull people in dull suits, dealing with dense, knotty financial matters -- hardly the stuff of exciting entertainment.

Yet the whole thing absorbed the nation. Twitter, of course, was on fire -- because the action was so dramatic. You could almost hear the collective jaw drop further as one mind-boggling revelation followed another.

Paul Kiely received a pension package of €700,000, paid from public donations to the CRC and misleadingly described as a "donation" on accounts, which was more than double what was previously declared to the committee; while €268,000 was paid to the pension administrators to base this package as if he would be working until November 2016, even though he resigned last July.

Meanwhile, Brian Conlan says he knew nothing about it because he didn't read the minutes.

The credit card of CRC Medical Devices -- a failed company -- was used for entertainment and travel -- a lot of travel. Nashville, Vancouver, New Delhi, Buenos Aires ... though Conlan forgot about Dusseldorf.

It went on like this. Even by the stomach-turning standards of public life, it was staggering. 'Animal Farm' pigs feasting at the trough came to mind. As television, however, it was gold: as riveting and shocking as any thriller.

Every story needs heroes as well as villains. We had the PAC sheriffs -- John Deasy, Simon Harris, Mary Lou McDonald, John McGuinness -- and the Wyatt Earp of standards and accountability, Shane Ross.

These gunslingers took no prisoners and didn't hold their fire.

Harris told Conlan "a man blindfolded on a galloping horse would have been more aware of what was going on". Deasy fumed: "What we're dealing with is a pretty twisted web."

Actually, they were less lawmen than lawyers and this felt like the closest thing we have to Court TV.

The US got the OJ trial, we get the PAC hearings.

It was extraordinary, engrossing and almost theatrically dramatic but no script was required. Sadly, this is real life.

Irish Independent

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