Tuesday 12 November 2019

Martina Devlin: Buried in self-pity . . . Lowry the martyr tells a good story

Martina Devlin

Martina Devlin

I never managed to see the 'Oberammergau Passion Play', a regular pageant since the 17th Century when a Bavarian village began staging Christ's trial and death in gratitude for escaping the bubonic plague. This week, however, a passion play was acted out in Ireland -- some weeks early for Easter, yet paradoxically 14 years late.

The Dail passion play is a mesmerising show because we don't know how the curtain will fall on this version. Crucifixion or exoneration? Will the dead rise and walk again? Is a lamb being led to the slaughter or the wool pulled over our eyes?

There are striking parallels between the New Testament story with which most of us grew up and the saga of the Moriarty Tribunal, also part of our lives for a good number of years. But I never quite grasped how many similarities existed between both narratives until Michael Lowry's one-man spectacle in Leinster House this week.

He is, without doubt, the lead character in the Dail passion play -- defending himself with the outraged innocence of a misunderstood Messiah. His behaviour is that of a man scourged at the pillar as Mr Justice Moriarty's whipping boy.

So martyred is his demeanour, I almost expected him to arrive in the chamber yesterday wearing a crown of thorns. Instead, he portrayed himself as the sacrificial victim to Moriarty's allegedly vindictive compulsion to assign blame.

It was a compelling performance. But no more than a performance. Despite all his posturing, the TD is no martyr. His troubles are self-inflicted, and all roads lead back to greed -- the sin, one of the seven deadliest, which finally derailed his alarmingly smooth rise to the top.

That deluge of words gushing from Lowry, laying into everyone from Moriarty to the media to the legal profession, cannot disguise the wafer-thin nature of his defence. Of course, he is entitled to protect his good name. But that's not what he did during the passion play scripted by him -- instead, he mimicked the billionaire tax exile Denis O'Brien's dishonourable conduct and used attack as his smokescreen.

The deputy's representation of himself offered an insight into his mental state, showcasing the persecution complex he has adopted as a way of dealing with widespread condemnation. Religious references were peppered throughout, from "sacrilege" to "doctrine" to "gospel", with a nod to "infallibility" and its connotations of papal infallibility.

Today's cross-party motion of censure won't trouble Lowry. Indeed, it may even feed his martyrdom complex. It's just another cross this deluded and self-pitying man will feel his enemies have foisted on him. He seems to possess an extraordinary -- some might say pathological -- ability to face down criticism.

How? Well, if we believe the Moriarty Report, then to Lowry the truth is a moveable feast. There has been talk of lie-detector tests for anyone who appears before a tribunal, but perhaps what we really need is for all public office candidates to take a truth serum.

Oddly enough, Lowry is now the sideshow despite dominating the stage. The real issue is how this new Government deals with him, how quickly it advances promised reforms, and how convincingly it moves to shore up our democracy.

Some politicians were more outspoken than others in expressing their repugnance of Lowry's actions. The Taoiseach has adopted a disappointingly softly-softly approach -- apparently for legal reasons, to protect the taxpayer in case a criminal investigation proceeds.

All the same, Micheal Martin landed a blow when he quoted Enda Kenny's misplaced eulogy to Lowry on being obliged to step down as a minister. Among the old guard, and Martin is included here as a member of the previous Government, Lowry casts a long shadow.

However, I noticed a new politician, Fine Gael's Mary Mitchell-O'Connor, pulled no punches when she spoke out against what you could call Lowryism: a calibre of debased political behaviour which wearies and disgusts the electorate.

"Even the dogs on the street know that Mr Lowry and Mr O'Brien are not telling the truth," she said in her maiden speech. It doesn't get any more direct than that.

During the debate, which featured a discouraging amount of political point-scoring -- so much for the new dawn -- we heard members of the Government hold forth on the need for transparency and reform. But it's already disappointing to observe how certain old ways continue to be tolerated.

A doubtful start to political transformation was made when new Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell appointed his wife Emma Doyle as a parliamentary assistant, having failed in his efforts to pass on his Fingal County Council seat to her.

That all-too-familiar arrogance -- an attitude we were led to believe would not form part of the current regime -- emerged when Fiach Kelly of the Irish Independent's political staff attempted to question the deputy about the signal sent out by a family appointment. Farrell threatened the reporter with security staff. So much for being publicly answerable.

This may seem minor, especially in contrast to Lowry's escapades, but it reveals a mindset and a political culture that have no place in Dail Eireann. And Farrell is only a few weeks in the job -- what's he going to be like after five years?

Meanwhile, I wonder if the fallout from Moriarty will mean an end to any presidential hopes that John Bruton may be nursing. He was Taoiseach when Lowry rammed through the mobile phone licence to his preferred candidate and, although Bruton is accused of no wrongdoing, the buck does stop with him.

To return to the passion play, let's not forget that while revenues from 'Oberammergau' help to pay for civic amenities in Bavaria, we end up fleeced for our Dail interpretation. At least we can hope that ours proves to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unlike 'Oberammergau', mounted once every 10 years.

But perhaps we shouldn't hold our breath. And if that's how many of us genuinely feel, despite such a damning report, then Enda risks fumbling this first great challenge thrown up during his term as Taoiseach.

Irish Independent

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