Tuesday 25 June 2019

Ross's ragtag mob hijack McCabe scandal for their own tawdry ends

Transport minister Shane Ross. Photo: PA
Transport minister Shane Ross. Photo: PA
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The omnishambles that has engulfed Fine Gael for the past two weeks has saved the Independent Alliance from some much-needed scrutiny of its members' pathetic grandstanding.

They bill themselves as a plucky band of maverick firebrands, eager to restore accountability and transparency to government, but in reality the Independent Alliance hides its parish pump proclivities beneath a veneer of preening self-regard.

Last week, this mask slipped. It will be hard to restore it. Never ones to look a gift horse in the mouth, the Independent Alliance TDs saw in the Sgt Maurice McCabe scandal an opportunity for cheap self-promotion.

As the rest of the country recoiled in horror at allegations that senior Garda management and child protection agency Tusla were involved in a smear campaign against Sgt McCabe, the members of the Independent Alliance were desperate to worm their way into the headlines.

They wanted to demonstrate to the country that they were deeply concerned about the crisis in policing, but it wasn't good enough to merely state that. They had to go further.

Their fingerprints had to be attached to some tangible reform measure that could be used as justification for their decision to remain in Government.

However, because they are utterly bereft of imagination, the best they could muster was an agreement with their Fine Gael Cabinet colleagues for a "root-and-branch" review of An Garda Síochána.

Which would be great, if we didn't already have three independent agencies that oversee the gardaí. The Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission, the Garda Inspectorate and the Policing Authority cost the State a combined €20m a year.

The Independent Alliance wants another outside review group to duplicate work so it will have a report to wave at detractors when it is accused of failing to accomplish anything of note while in office.

Incredibly, Transport Minister Shane Ross had the gall to claim that a root-and-branch review of An Garda Síochána has never been done before.

This news will presumably come as a major surprise to the Garda Inspectorate, which has been publishing comprehensive, and usually scathing, reviews of policing services since it was established in 2005.

If anyone from the Independent Alliance had bothered paying attention to the Dáil's Justice Committee, they would have known that the last time the Garda Inspectorate called for "root-and-branch" reform in An Garda Síochána was December 2015.

Speaking after the publication of yet another highly critical report, 'Changing Policing in Ireland', Deputy Chief Inspector Mark Toland tried to convince politicians of the urgent need for major reform.

Meanwhile, in a damning appraisal of Garda management, Chief Inspector Bob Olson said there had been "minimal and ineffective structural changes" in response to a plethora of previous reports and inquiries.

This statement of the obvious, that reviews and reports are ultimately worthless unless their recommendations are actually implemented, seems to be lost on the Independent Alliance.

Not content with the fact that a tribunal of inquiry is going to be set up to get to the bottom of allegations that have sullied the reputations of important state institutions, they wanted to extract further concession from Fine Gael for use in their press releases.

Mr Ross's championing of a report, being commissioned in the full knowledge that it will tell us nothing we don't already know, is especially hard to fathom given his recent trenchant criticism of the Dáil's banking inquiry.

In January 2016, just months before he hitched his wagon to Fine Gael in government, Mr Ross decried the inquiry as "a total waste of time" because it "didn't find out anything new at all".

How does he reconcile this assessment of the banking inquiry with his own insistence that a fourth independent body, tasked with reviewing An Garda Síochána, is a panacea for this latest crisis?

Clearly, politicians' tolerance for reports that provide "absolutely minimal" value increases exponentially once they reach the pinnacle of politics and become afflicted with a debilitating altitude sickness.

As the Independent Alliance scuttles around trying to make itself relevant, another independent minister, Katherine Zappone, has mysteriously emerged unscathed from the scandal.

Despite being centrally involved in the mishandling of this debacle, Ms Zappone is earning plaudits for relaying an accurate account of her communications with the Taoiseach. Evidently, our faith in politics has reached such a nadir that a minister truthfully describing meetings that actually happened now marks her out as some kind of exemplar.

Before the gushing praise of Ms Zappone becomes even more obsequious, let's pause for a moment to recall what actually happened. The Children's Minister abjectly failed to appreciate the gravity of Sgt McCabe's allegations concerning Tusla when she met him in late January, and only belatedly announced an independent review of the child protection agency when public outrage threatened the existence of the Government.

Ms Zappone may appear to have acted competently when her performance is measured against her Fine Gael colleagues, but that is an important proviso. Using that metric, Wile E Coyote was adept at catching Road Runners.

People voted for Independents during the election because they were promised new politics. Instead, what they've gotten has been a cheap knock-off masquerading as something innovative and original.

Instead of acting as a cohesive and coherent unit to effect real change in this country, the disparate members of this ragtag Government are more interested in their own political ambitions.

These tensions at the Cabinet table will only be further magnified if the already interminable battle to find Enda Kenny's successor takes much longer.

Irish Independent

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