Wednesday 20 November 2019

Reilly still has questions to answer, but he's not Haughey

Dr James Reilly has been judged guilty by a kangaroo court without sufficient evidence. He has significant questions still to answer. On these, the Irish Independent has pursued him. They involve the distorting of criteria, the ethical basis of Dr Reilly's position, personal involvement in the choice of primary care sites and misinformation to the Dail on the relationship between himself and Seamus Murphy.

Expect more questions, fewer answers. One piece of timely research was by Elaine Byrne in yesterday's 'Sunday Independent'. This showed that Dr Reilly was on firm constitutional ground while his former junior minister claimed powers she did not have.

It should be remembered that Dr Reilly has the least attractive job in government and is doing it under the handicap of his anointment as the devil incarnate. He is the most qualified, and yet he has not been given a chance. He has retained the support of colleagues, his party and party leader as well as ministers. Only three named politicians have called for his resignation.

The dark cloud over him has caused hugely unwarranted charges to be laid against the Government generally, with rifts opening between the coalition partners. Most of the differences have not stood up, or look unstable and exaggerated.

The case against Dr Reilly is prejudiced by social and class attitudes. This prejudice in reverse has spawned over-reaction in favour of Roisin Shortall, one of our few dedicated socialists. Her basic beliefs are sound, her strength of purpose admirable, but her judgment uncertain.

The media has overdone the story. Let me give examples. Firstly, there is Brenda Power, a columnist in the 'Daily Mail', who wrote that James Reilly's "unchecked rampage of stroke politics has alarming echoes of the very darkest days of the Haughey and Ahern administrations". She also cites the examples of "clearly crooked ministers" being retained while the "whiff of corruption grew"'.

There is no evidence of corruption. Such parallels are inappropriate. Dr Reilly looks guilty on a number of other fronts, including his mistakes over facts and his possible lies, giving the clear suggestion of wrongdoing that has yet to be clarified.

Now compare this with Charles Haughey, who illegally attempted to import arms for the IRA and corruptly took money to facilitate the import of cattle through Spike Island. He then concealed a lifetime's dishonest financial dealings and tried to lie his way out of the charges when they were mounting against him. And what did the media do? Idolised him.

It is preposterous to compare Dr Reilly with him. As to Mr Ahern's mistakes, of more recent discovery, they too are in a different class from anything that present politicians in power have done.

My second example is Fintan O'Toole of 'The Irish Times', who wrote in even more exaggerated terms, suggesting Fine Gael has become Fianna Fail "in a clever survival strategy" and is obeying the fundamental principle in Irish politics that "there's a big market for pure clientelist politics in Ireland".

He suggests this ensures the Government of Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore does not have to worry about "the freak show of the banking disaster, mass unemployment, emigration and growing inequality".

Mr O'Toole's fantasy includes the idea that dependent people prefer personal and local patronage from their politicians, no matter what their party, and that those in power are filling "a Fianna Fail-shaped hole in Irish public culture". He absolves Labour from this guilt because the party is "not big enough nor deeply-rooted enough"!

He ends this fanciful play on words and ideas by suggesting that Ms Shortall's conflict with Dr Reilly dramatises "in the clearest possible way the difference between machine politics and good governance based on clear principles and objective evidence". He presents no evidence for this at all, nor is there any.

He wrongly claims that "Labour had the enormous good fortune to be overwhelmingly on the right side, not just of an argument, but of a whole approach to public life".

None of this is true. There is no "right side". There are just sides, and the argument favoured the more senior politician, who acted constitutionally from within government while Ms Shortall was outside that decision-making centre of power. Dr Reilly's decisions prevailed. Tough, both for her and for him.

But not all is clear. The Government needs to stick with the problem and sort it.

There has been no "morphing" (part of Mr O'Toole's colourful language) of Fine Gael into Fianna Fail. The Fianna Fail way of doing things is over. Remnants need tidying up, for which Dr Reilly carries a burden of responsibility with questions still unanswered. His colleagues should not lose their nerve, or he may have to go.

Irish Independent

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