Friday 6 December 2019

Time to deliver true independents' day

This tired, 'party first' attitude should be shot down at the ballot box, writes Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

The election is still nearly two weeks away, and already you'd be sick of the politicians – grinning down from the lampposts, begging for our approval. It's not just the garda hierarchy that has disgraced itself – it's the political establishment, too.

Appeals to ministers, emails to the Taoiseach, repeated attempts in the Dail by Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and other TDs, to get the political parties interested in the state of the police force – all brushed aside.

Do these people stand for anything at all? The politicians who trumpet their devotion to law and order left the public exposed to vicious violence – from people who were found breaking serious laws yet weren't prosecuted.

And this was deadly serious stuff. Violence, sexual attacks. These politicians are the people who accuse others of being soft on crime. They left the public exposed to vicious thuggery.

Saying you support law and order doesn't make it so. You support the police by holding them to account, by encouraging the highest standards and questioning behaviour that damages the public.

What these self-proclaimed law-and-order people support is a web of like-minded individuals who back one another up when the going gets tough – regardless of the truth, regardless of the public welfare.

In the last few days, with the Guerin Report, we've had confirmed every suspicion we've ever had about the incompetence – and the cynical politics – of these people.

The Taoiseach stood idly by as the Minister for Justice misrepresented those who sought to do right. Always ready to denigrate the minister's critics, a snide remark was never far from the Taoiseach's lips.

Only when Shatter was teetering on the brink, the Guerin Report on its way to publication, did the Taoiseach hurriedly give him a push into political oblivion.

"Yer on yer own, Alan. Nothing to do with me."

A bad time to come to us asking for votes.

The independent TDs – specifically Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, Joan Collins, and Luke Flanagan – took the matter seriously. Wallace proposed legislative reme-dies and Fine Gael, Labour and Fianna Fail sneered the proposal off the agenda. Ho, ho, ho, the fella with the long stringy hair and the tax problems is telling us – the serious people – how to reform the police.

Like Sergeant Maurice McCabe and Garda John Wilson, the independent TDs found out there can be a price for challenging a powerful force. Anyone – inside the force or outside – who dares dissent is an enemy, no matter how right they are, no matter that their dissent may protect the public. Files are kept, the tools of inquiry and surveillance are available.

Gossip about a driving incident involving Wallace went all the way up to the Commissioner, who gave it to the minister, who relayed it live on television, in an effort to politically weaken Wallace. And we're still waiting for an explanation of why Clare Daly ended up in handcuffs by the roadside, after being incorrectly suspected of drunk driving.

The serious people, meanwhile, began proceedings within the Oireachtas to see if they can force Mick Wallace to change the colour of his shirt. Serious people, it seems, don't wear pink. And they pondered how they might force Richard Boyd Barrett to tuck his shirt inside his trousers – important stuff like that seems to obsess Fine Gael in particular.

It's one of the bizarre realities of the political stinkhole in which we're trapped that while McCabe and Wilson were being blackguarded, and Wallace's legislative proposals were being sneered at, an Oireachtas Committee had the time and the cheek to consider how it might go about forcing left-wing TDs to change their dress habits.

It was fear, rather than principle, which made these people act. Sergeant Maurice McCabe gave the dossier of horrors to Micheal Martin. And Martin gave it to Enda Kenny. The Taoiseach knew that if he ignored the dossier it would leak and he would be in big trouble. So, he ordered a review – resulting in the Guerin Report, which finished off Shatter.

As late as Thursday night, a hapless Fine Gael TD was on RTE radio, badmouthing Maurice McCabe, delivering the party line, parroting senior gardai. He had to apologise.

The poor chap, it seems, hadn't got the memo – you see, the party line now is that we love whistleblowers.

Last week, Luke Flanagan spoke in the Dail of a new whistleblower. The previous week, when he raised the same matter, Enda Kenny found it amusing. Last week, Ruairi Quinn was responding, instead of Kenny, and he shared Flanagan's concern, he said. He welcomed the new whistleblower and committed the Government to supporting the right to dissent. Unlike the Taoiseach, Quinn knows not to giggle when dealing with serious matters.

Given what's happened, somehow it's hard to get worked up about who will represent us in the European 'Parliament'. The European 'Parliament' is an odd place, created to give the EU project a slightly more democratic appearance. It's a parliament in the same way that a box of frozen hamburger patties is meat. We get to elect people to sit in the European 'Parliament' for five years, they're paid huge amounts of money, and have less power than a dead battery.

Local reps are elected to a system of local democracy that doesn't exist. You'd struggle to find a reason to vote at all.

Fine Gael is the bondholder party. It's noted in recent years for denouncing its opponent's policies and then – once elected – implementing those same policies. And doing so shamelessly, adopting a righteous air, and claiming to be saving the country from itself.

Labour – well, not even Enda Kenny takes them seriously anymore.

Fianna Fail – lads, you really need to do an intensive course with one of those spin-doctor outfits, where they teach you how to look people in the eye while picking their pockets.

With the Government on the back foot, Fianna Fail sends out one tenth-rater or another, who waffles on – and even when you agree with what they're saying, you know they're saying it only because they think it's what will get the party back into power.

Sinn Fein – the performance of the party when Gerry Adams was in custody, being questioned, was quite shocking. People who otherwise seem articulate clung desperately to the party line. It was like listening to Willie O'Dea defending Bertie. You could almost hear the heels clicking as they lined up, with a slight air of panic, defend their dear leader.

When Adams got out he took control – and whether you believed him or not – he spoke coherently and with apparent conviction about restoring political stability. You can see why he's in no hurry to retire – the up-and-coming folk rattle too easily. Not ready for prime time.

The independents have proven the value of dogged, principled work.

Although it truly doesn't matter who we elect to Europe, I'd like to vote for Diarmuid O'Flynn, the campaigner from the Ballyhea protest – principled, dogged, knowledgeable and sensible. But, much as I like Cork, moving down just to cast a vote, well, it's a bit drastic.

It's traditional in this country to slag off politicians. But recent events suggest we've been far too easy on them.

Sunday Independent

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