Monday 19 August 2019

The Taoiseach must put his country above his party

Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Let me start by making three predictions about which I further predict I will not have to eat humble pie.

First, Leo Varadkar's lack of experience will have been the fundamental cause of a general election - which will see Simon Coveney replace him if he does not deliver a record number of seats.

Second, Fianna Fail has nothing to fear if it follows Micheal Martin's two-tier strategy: to protect Maurice McCabe and subvert Sinn Fein's sinister threat.

Finally, although Fianna Fail faces a mainly hostile media, the electorate will eventually factor that in - to the benefit of Fianna Fail.

Take them in turn. The Taoiseach failed to act with good authority by taking out one of his own tribe, the Tanaiste, who had failed Maurice McCabe, failed him and misled the Dail.

Everyone in Fine Gael who is not blinded by partisan passion must know that Enda Kenny would long ago have put the Tanaiste out of her misery.

The Taoiseach should reflect on why experienced politicians like Brendan Howlin feel the Tanaiste is damaged beyond repair.

If he reflects with dispassion, he must surely conclude that the Tanaiste handled the email affair so badly that Micheal Martin had no choice but to call for her head.

My late friend Patricia Redlich believed that most of the trouble in the world was caused by weakness.

She specially singled out those who hid behind legalistic protocols to avoid moral imperatives.

Last week, we saw three examples, at different ranges of moral responsibility, of weakness, lethal dithering and looking away.

The conviction of Ratko Mladic reminded us how Dutch troops failed to protect Muslim men and boys from his murder gangs.

In Argentina, navy top brass dithered for days before belatedly reporting a tragically lost submarine.

In Ireland, a former Minister for Justice claimed she was legally precluded from stopping an apparent strategy to challenge the credibility of Maurice McCabe as revealed in an email to her. Some of her case rested on this final sentence.

"...and I agreed that this is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, who is being legally advised, and that neither the Attorney nor the Minister has a function relating to the evidence (that) a party to a Commission of Investigation may adduce." (My italics.)

The Tanaiste might note the Buncrana drowning tragedy posed the same dilemma of legal versus moral duty.

Legally, we are not obliged to save someone from drowning. Morally, we feel we should do so.

The Buncrana tragedy also shows that such decisions come from some deeper DNA than laws which came later.

Davitt Walsh was not a great swimmer. He had no legal obligation to attempt a rescue. Or, to use the email word, he had no function.

Yet he and Stephanie, his girlfriend, felt they had a human duty to attempt a rescue.

Frances Fitzgerald faced the same kind of choice in deciding whether or not to rescue the reputation of Maurice McCabe which she clearly knew was under threat. She did not do so. She invoked legal advice to justify her failure to protest at the proposed actions against McCabe. But legal advice does not protect her from moral judgment and political sanctions.

Micheal Martin and Brendan Howlin did not shout and roar like Mary Lou McDonald last week.

But their forensic ethical examination of the email forced us to the following firm conclusion.

The Tanaiste was aware that dirty work was afoot against McCabe but had taken no action to avert it.

Leo Varadkar should face the fact that going into a general election Micheal Martin and Brendan Howlin are holding the high moral ground on Maurice McCabe.

Martin is also holding the high moral ground on Sinn Fein. And here again Leo Varadkar is lagging behind.

Last weekend, feverish delegates at the Sinn Fein ard fheis worked themselves into a frenzy after Derry MP Elisha McCallion, paying tribute to Martin McGuinness, screamed that "Martin was a proud member of the IRA".

Leo Varadkar stayed silent about the IRA aspect of Sinn Fein's sinister rally. Just as he stayed silent on Sinn Fein at the Fine Gael ard fheis.

Far from challenging Sinn Fein, Varadkar and Coveney have been faithfully following its two main agendas - whipping up anti-British feeling on Brexit and urging a united Ireland.

The Taoiseach is currying cheap favour by talking tough to the Brits about Brexit and the border.

This tribal policy will have no positive practical effect except to alienate our English trading partners and, by promoting anti-British feeling, to grow the Sinn Fein vote.

Likewise, Simon Coveney lifted Sinn Fein spirits last week by saying he hoped to see a united Ireland "in his political lifetime".

Where will he get the army to achieve that aim? Serbian mercenaries?

Coveney, of course, is really waving the green flag as part of his campaign to replace Varadkar if he fails to deliver electorally.

But while Varadkar and Coveney were creating a tribal climate conducive to Sinn Fein, Micheal Martin was raining hard on its ard fheis parade in a scathing speech at the Burlington Hotel.

He ridiculed the cosmetic leadership changes. "They might be new leaders but they are not new faces."

He pointed to their moral complicity in IRA crimes. "The fact is that every one of their potential leaders joined Sinn Fein before the ceasefires and has repeatedly defended the Provisional IRA's campaign."

Martin's relentless focus on IRA atrocities is one of the main reasons Middle Ireland remains suspicious of Sinn Fein.

Last Monday on Today with Sean O'Rourke, Eoin O Broin revealed how he and the "new faces" in Sinn Fein propose to deal with Martin's deadly barbs.

Jean McConville? Paul Quinn? Enniskillen? Before their time. Nothing to do with them.

Yes it does. Unless they condemn the IRA campaign they will remain under Martin's cosh. But will Martin be reported?

Even before an election is called, Fianna Fail faces a warped metropolitan media agenda that seems blind to Sinn Fein strategy.

Last Sunday, RTE TV news failed to carry Martin's caustic attack on Sinn Fein.

Last Thursday, Prime Time banished Thomas Byrne of Fianna Fail to a side panel so as to pit Fine Gael against Sinn Fein.

RTE's brazen binary strategy benefits both Fine Gael and Sinn Fein and marginalises Fianna Fail.

RTE TV News also buried the McCabe story at the back of its bulletins last Tuesday and Wednesday.

But TV3 News knew it was a major story and led with it both days.

And Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates kept a bouncy balance on the increasingly unmissable Tonight Show.

Sarah McInerney, high on the prospect of a general election, blithely told Matt that, "Leo was a genius" and assured Ivan that the McCabe story would not be an election issue.

"It's a worthy issue, that's exactly the word Ivan, it's worthy, but it's not sexy from a media perspective."

Cooper did not look convinced. Are we really immune to injustice?

Or is the Taoiseach in trouble?

Sunday Independent

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