Thursday 22 August 2019

How much must we suffer for something we didn't do?

A grave injustice was done to a good man - but does it really require an election no one wants, asks Brendan O'Connor

Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar. Photo:Tom Burke
Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Leo Varadkar. Photo:Tom Burke
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

The question now is how much more the people of this country need to suffer over what was done to Maurice McCabe. McCabe is an honourable man, and he was treated appallingly by the organisation he worked for and its political masters. But this is ridiculous.

The mishandling of this matter has already effectively lost us two Garda Commissioners and a minister for justice and it has hastened the demise of a Taoiseach. While people generally accepted this collateral damage, we now look set to lose a Government and be plunged into a general election, which, everyone agrees, nobody wants. This is an election that most people agree won't give us a better government than we have, and it could give us a far more unstable government, or indeed no government at all.

An unnecessary election these days is potentially a massive act of self-harm.

We have stood slightly smugly by while our near neighbours have torn themselves apart and now, just as their chaos, their incoherent Brexit idea, threatens to pull us down with them, we are looking at having an unnecessary election of our own. Effectively it's a massive act of self-harm of our own to compound the collateral damage from theirs.

And this will be an election essentially provoked by Sinn Fein, which is more interested in destruction than anything constructive. Sinn Fein may be trying to reimagine itself as a party of Government but this is a party that refused to take hand, act or part in any Government after the last election, at a time when the country desperately needed a government.

It is essentially a party of protest, which specialises in criticising what everyone else does, looking to score points, while having no coherent plan for how the country should be run while refusing to be in government in any of the three jurisdictions in which it operates.

Sinn Fein has in turn started a contagion that has infected Fianna Fail, starting a madness within that party. Fianna Fail has fallen victim to this kind of madness before, around water charges, when Paul Murphy started a contagion that infected Sinn Fein and then Fianna Fail, and that has left us with raw sewage at our beaches and no money to fix our water problems. Two parties who went down an ideological route they previously had no strong convictions about, purely for the sake of politics.

There are patterns here. People do dumb things for the sake of politics.

Former British prime minister David Cameron has a Brexit vote to save his political skin and then walks away when it backfires, whistling, or more actively humming, past the graveyard, leaving his country a disaster zone. Theresa May tries to shore up her own authority with an election and makes a national hero of the previously unelectable Jeremy Corbyn, who manages to win the election without winning it. God knows what an election will throw up here, but it is unlikely to be the quasi-stable, generally no-drama, managing-the-situation government we have now.

Nobody loves this Government. We don't see us settling down and getting married to them. But they'll do for now, as a reasonably stable interregnum to get us through the immediate challenges that face us. It's a semi-national Government that at least gives an illusion of stability to outsiders and looks after the day-to-day running of the country, while we figure out what the next political phase is. We all know that this Government will probably not last the pace and we are resigned to the fact that there will be an election at some stage. But surely just not now, and not over this issue.

Of course those who would bring down this Government will say it's not about politics. Indeed those who would bring down this Government will claim it's the last thing they want to do. Fine Gael says Fianna Fail is the party putting everything in jeopardy and Fianna Fail say it's Fine Gael. Neither claim to want an election. It's a kind of political childishness that is already giving people a pain in the face. Both claim to be pushing this issue for the sake of standards and propriety, and standards and propriety are important. But will they butter any parsnips for people who are busy getting ready for Christmas and have the added inconvenience of people knocking at their door telling them why they should vote for them over the others?

Of course the election, when it comes, will be presented as being about other things - health, homelessness etc. But the reality is that most people don't feel right now that there would be a huge difference in what a Fianna Fail-led government could or would do about homelessness or health. Most people just want them to get on with it together for now. Indeed an election now could cause massive political casualties purely because people are annoyed with all politicians over the fact of the election.

Of course McCabe and the undermining of his reputation and Frances Fitzgerald's part in that are important. But really? Fitzgerald needs to go because she ignored one email that was, at best, vaguely worded, that McCabe says was actually not true anyway? Does this really mean she was part of some vast conspiracy to undermine Sergeant McCabe? If the matter raised in the email was so clear and required action by Fitzgerald then why wasn't a bigger deal made of it by her officials? Why did the email tell her she was not to act? Why did no one speak to her about it subsequently? Why did no one ask her if she had read the email?

If she is so at fault here that she cannot be trusted to do her job, then should we not be looking for other heads, too? What about the person who assured her no action was allowed? What about the people who never followed up on it? When there was no reply to the email did no one feel the need to send it again and ask her had she seen it and did she recognise what was being said? What about any other people in the office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice who knew the full details of what was going on but didn't request to sit down with the minister and go through it with her clearly? Instead there is one ambiguously worded email that tells her she is not allowed to do anything about it anyway? If we are serious about this then one token person losing their job is not enough.

The fact is, too, that the reality of this Government's attitude to Sgt McCabe has been supportive. A vast amount of political energy, time and expense has gone into ensuring that no further injustice was done to him.

The current Taoiseach was one of the first government politicians to stand up publicly and unambiguously for Maurice McCabe. And now his Government is to fall because of the McCabe saga?

As much as everyone agrees that a great wrong was done to a good man here, most people would feel that it was not a wrong done by them, and they should not have to suffer an election because of it.

While people recognise the injustice done to Maurice McCabe, they are starting to ask how much more the State must be convulsed over this injustice.

Sunday Independent

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