There should be a law that says that anyone who has cheated the Revenue is ineligible for membership of the Oireachtas. Full stop. That would involve a simple, uncomplicated Bill that would have a positive effect on the miserable quality of democracy in this country. What party, TD or senator could possibly vote against such a Bill?
And I know the very man to introduce this Bill. He's in the habit of wearing pink shirts.
Last week, there were three significant developments that will have an effect on parliamentary democracy as we know it in this country. 1) The decision to reduce the number of TDs by eight; 2) a skirmish in the slow-motion campaign to abolish the Seanad; and 3) the effort to kick Mick Wallace out of the Dail. Let's take them in that order.
When young and foolish, I was all for chopping the number of TDs from 166 to 100. When you get to know the average TD you come to realise there's nothing average about most of them -- they're distinctly sub-average. The system, for various reasons, attracts people who are little more than vote-harvesting machines, with very little interest in the world around them.
This kind of pothole politics destroys local democracy and produces the kind of parliament that sat idly by while the FF/PD government handed the country over to the bankers and speculators.
The notion of having fewer TDs is tempting. Problem is: the quality of the average Irish government is woeful for a reason. The pool from which ministers are drawn is small. And full of gobshites who think of nothing but "de seat".
Usually, a taoiseach will have 80-something TDs from which to draw 30 senior and junior ministers, plus chairs of committees. As a result, the ministerial ranks always have a
remarkable proportion of people who couldn't be trusted to run a sweetshop.
To reduce the TD pool by eight, without radical reform of the electoral system, will make things marginally worse.
Again, in my youth I was never a fan of the Seanad. Yes, there have been decent people there, capable people. But look at it, listen to it, read the transcripts. Amusing, sometimes interesting -- but not as amusing or interesting as the average pub chat. After its performance these past few years, in this time of national emergency, well the Seanad's made a good case for its own abolition.
The problem with this -- as the problem with so much else right now -- is Enda Kenny.
In October 2009, at a party dinner, needing a Big Idea to show his fresh thinking, Enda promised a referendum on abolishing the Seanad within 12 months of being elected. Promise broken, of course, but leave that aside.
This was sucked from his thumb. No consultation, no analysis, he ignored the fact that this would change the parliamentary process (to what?). The entire rationale was that Enda could claim to be "saving money" -- big headline. Enda likes big headlines. It means he's Getting Things Done.
We now know that Enda can't be let out without minders. At any moment he might announce that he's decided to sell the Book of Kells or invade Mexico. We know his Seanad announcement was one of those moments -- Right, lads, watch me be decisive! Get up the yard, Bruton!
Last week, three Labour senators voted against the government. They want to subject Enda's impulse decision on the Seanad to some kind of measured consideration. Yes, I know, the turkeys are trying to avert Christmas -- but the average turkey shows more considered judgement than this unfortunate Taoiseach.
So, fewer TDs will weaken democracy. And a considered discussion on how to replace (or remove) the current pointless Seanad set-up may strengthen democracy. The campaign to kick Mick Wallace out of the Dail is what you might expect -- great fun for those who hate pink shirts.
I don't know Mick Wallace, but I've liked him for about a decade. Back then, our government was nodding deferentially to US President Bush, as that odd man set about the criminal lunacy of the Iraq invasion. Wallace put a huge banner on a building site, denouncing the violence.
The idealism was, I suppose, all the more impressive in coming from such an unexpected quarter. In Ireland, when a builder expresses an interest in politics it usually comes in a brown envelope.
Wallace did wrong in defrauding the Revenue. He's paid a price, quite rightly. My own belief has always been that anyone who is found to have defrauded the Revenue doesn't belong in the Oireachtas, and that applies to Mick Wallace as much as Michael Lowry.
Since the revelation, Wallace has brought to Irish politics a quality that has been blatantly absent -- shame. He did wrong, he knows it, and his shame is obvious in every appearance he makes in public.
Contrast this with some others who did wrong -- the whiny complainers who point the finger at everyone other than themselves. The politicians -- "Oh, poor me, the meeja is agin me, the tribunals are poking their noses into me marriage bed, it's not fair, so it's not."
The bankers and speculators, the politicians who destroyed the country by taking bank debt on to the state's books. The people caught lying at tribunals. The creators of bogus accounts, the offshore hounds and their enablers, the givers and accepters of aforesaid brown envelopes.
Where's the shame? Wallace, to his credit, displayed the shame appropriate to his misbehaviour.
The odium heaped on him has by now become comical. In recent days, we've been told his "name is synonymous with the worst excesses of capitalism".
Wow. Forget King Leopold's economic and physical rape of the Congo. From that minor matter to the shameful Irish treatment of Eastern European mushroom pickers -- everything pales into significance when held up against Mick Wallace and his VAT returns.
An interesting view. More revealing was the columnist who suggested that "part of his penance could surely involve having to wear a shirt and tie, and putting his hair in a ponytail". I'm not making this up.
They hate him. They hate his politics, his hair and his clothes. There was no similar campaign to kick Fianna Failers Denis Foley or Michael Collins out of the Dail. Respected Fine Gael figures are free to hobnob with Michael Lowry, while the party at one point floated the possibility of taking him back.
But Wallace is a hate figure for those people and the glee with which they demean him has been hugely enlightening. It says far more about them than it says about Wallace.
Even someone who believes his misbehaviour doesn't warrant leaving the Dail knows that he's dreadfully compromised. He could make a positive of it, by introducing that Bill on making anyone who evades tax ineligible for membership of the Oireachtas. Guide it through the Dail, then resign. Wallace could then get on with what has been a varied, useful life.
Of course, Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail would give their full, enthusiastic support to such a Bill. Wouldn't they, Enda? Wouldn't they?