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Brian Brennan: When will we achieve a true democracy in which politicians are not afraid to say what they think?

'When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean-- neither more nor less."

There has been a great deal of Humpty-speak by government politicians since Brian Cowen's close ties with Sean FitzPatrick and his dalliances with other senior bank figures came to light.

Successive days of rumour, Chinese whispers and stretched loyalties have sorely tested the gymnastic linguistic powers of ministers in particular.

Straight talk has been in short supply and nothing that happened yesterday suggests the situation is likely to change any time soon.

It is both fascinating and infuriating to hear a government minister combine words with righteous indignation in order to evade an awkward question, deliberately missing the point and effectively refusing to answer.

Asked last Thursday, on RTE's 'Six One' news, if he was aware of rumblings of discontent in the Fianna Fail camp, Cowen replied that there had been "no one" in the parliamentary party who had "not been showing confidence in my leadership". Pedantically that may have been true at the time, the key word being "showing", but it was not entirely straight.

And Cowen probably would have made things easier for himself had he been more frank from the start about who had joined him in Druids Glen, rather than waiting to have it squeezed out of him in the Dail.

In the immediate wake of the Golfgate disclosures, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin was asked repeatedly by a Newstalk reporter whether she had confidence in Cowen to lead Fianna Fail through the upcoming general election. She found three different ways to answer neither yes nor no.

Defence Minister Tony Killeen sat firmly on the fence through long, rambling radio interviews in which he stoutly insisted that it was perfectly believable that Mr Cowen could have spent seven hours with the bank czar, playing golf, and then dining, without mentioning the growing crisis at Anglo Irish Bank in 2008.

Mr Killeen defended the right of a hard working minister to play a recuperative round of golf and claimed that a form of etiquette exists on such occasions whereby official matters must not be mentioned.

It would be considered impolite, he explained.

Former Bank of Ireland chief Mike Soden agreed with this in an interview. Sheer concentration and competitive zeal would preclude any serious discussion when playing golf, he said. Golfers rang the station to point out that silence and concentration are only required when addressing the ball which, in the case of a 14 handicapper like Cowen, might take up one out of the four to five hours it takes to play 18 holes. For the rest of the time he'd be free to address his playing partner.

But perhaps bankers take their golf more seriously than most.

When they are not trying to talk their way out of tight corners, ministers frequently do a Humpty on ordinary, everyday words

Batt O'Keeffe, a former Education Minister, repeatedly stated that, in order to survive, the Seanad must become more relative. Perhaps the word he was seeking was 'relevant'.

Mary Coughlan is famous for her malapropisms. Speaking without notes to an invited audience of entrepreneurs, she once seized on the idea of the survival of the fittest. The IDA would be marketing Ireland as the innovation island, she said, "like Einstein explaining his theory of evolution".

Then there was that loveable rogue Bertie Ahern's "smoke and daggers" dismissal of the disgraceful conspiracies to discredit him and his pointing out the futility of throwing white elephants and red herrings around in the Dail. Somehow such gaffes don't seem quite so hilarious upon mature reflection (perhaps the most brazen verbal decoy of them all).

John Gormley echoed Bertie Ahern's famous assurance to the Dail that he had been up every tree in north Dublin but could find no evidence of any misdeeds on the part of Ray Burke. Taking questions after the Green Party's meeting about the Golfgate affair, Mr Gormley said the party had tried to establish whether there had been any impropriety involved, but could find no evidence of it. They were, after all, not Sherlock Holmes. He reminded his listeners of the great issues that face the nation and yet, here we were, obsessed by the minutiae of a golf game.

Humpty Dumpty couldn't have done better.

The question had nothing to do with the Greens' powers of deduction; it had to do with what they believe to be the truth.

Nor did it have anything to do with the minutiae of a golf game -- handicaps, scores, putts and the state of the greens -- it had everything to do with who the golfers were and what they might have said to each other. As we subsequently discovered, all had not been revealed, and all it took was to ask the Taoiseach a direct question; provided it was the right question. So much for Sherlock.

We may have to wait until after a general election but, hopefully, some day soon we will emerge from the current bizarre equivalent of Alice's looking glass into a transformed, transparent, truly democratic society in which politicians are not afraid to say what they think and mean what they say.

Irish Independent