Tuesday 12 November 2019

Kenny has lost his moral compass and concentrates only on survival

The truth is there is something rotten at the heart of the Fine Gael party, and the concept of 'new politics' is actually a monstrous political fabrication, writes Alan Shatter

‘THIS IS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF FINE GAEL AND THE FUTURE OF OUR COUNTRY’: Alan Shatter, then Minister for Justice, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys
‘THIS IS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF FINE GAEL AND THE FUTURE OF OUR COUNTRY’: Alan Shatter, then Minister for Justice, with Taoiseach Enda Kenny. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Alan Shatter

Enda Kenny has only one strategy - continuing political survival and to remain Taoiseach and in government for as long as possible. Retention of power is the only game in town.

Principle, values, fiscal and economic objectives, social priorities, concepts of public service and of the public good or the long-term political health of the Fine Gael party have long ceased to be his primary focus when determining how issues should be addressed.

For the Taoiseach, doing what is right for the country has come to mean doing what is required to politically survive and remain Taoiseach for as long as he can string it out.

Politics is now simply a performance. It is also a game of charades which, every so often, requires something to be done or said that implies his imminent departure. That temporarily settles the restless within Fine Gael's parliamentary party.

When the anticipated time for his departure as Taoiseach approaches, something new is identified to prolong his remaining in office. The formula has become comical.

There is no moral compass by which the actions or pronouncements of the Taoiseach are presently guided. When he is speaking or questioned on controversial issues, facts are expediently variable or are jettisoned. This was again evident in the Dail last week in the Taoiseach's comments on the Fennelly report when he failed to acknowledge that the Attorney General overreacted to the revelation of garda recordings and was alarmist.

He also failed to acknowledge, as Judge Fennelly determined, that the mission he gave to Brian Purcell, the former Secretary General of the Department of Justice, on the night of his fateful visit to Martin Callinan's home was to inform him that the Taoiseach may not be able to express confidence in him as Garda Commissioner after the next day's Cabinet meeting.

He also ignored the fact that Judge Fennelly determined if I had, as Justice Minister, been informed at an earlier stage of the Taoiseach's and Attorney General's concerns, it was "very likely" that "it would have made a significant difference to the events as they unfolded".

Unfortunately, when the Taoiseach is economical with the truth on an issue of importance, it contaminates what is said by members of Cabinet.

Since February 2016, public discussion by Fine Gael Oireachtas members about the failures and dysfunction relating to the 2016 General Election campaign and responsibility and accountability for those failures is strictly verboten.

It is perceived by the Taoiseach that it is advantageous that Fine Gael operate as some sort of semi-secret society and not as the largest party in a functioning democracy.

Fully open and transparent debate is to be avoided and is wrongly depicted as disloyalty.

The belief of the Taoiseach and his closest advisers is that all difficulties that arise can be controlled and managed and, where necessary, by facts and events being spun and distorted. There is a sense of impunity and no fear of accountability.

Unquestioning loyalty to the leader is demanded and rewarded. In recent times, anyone within Fine Gael critical of Enda Kenny's leadership has been labelled a maverick - knowing some commentators and party members readily adopt such depiction and then ignore the substance of any criticism voiced.

It is acceptable, where desired, to destroy or attempt to destroy the reputation, career or wellbeing of individuals and sabotage the election campaign of any out-going TD or party member who has the integrity or courage to challenge fabricated stories, self-serving spin and misuses of power or where it is feared such conduct will be challenged and exposed.

That was my experience of the 2016 General Election and is my continuing experience. I had committed the ultimate sin of contradicting under oath the Taoiseach's and the Attorney General's sworn evidence to the Fennelly Commission and of being believed.

I also committed the sin of challenging in the courts the manner in which Sean Guerin SC conducted his non- statutory inquiry to assert my right to fair procedures and to be not arbitrarily condemned.

In addition, through use of the FOI mechanism in 2015, I overcame the resistance of the Taoiseach's Department to obtain documentation establishing correspondence sent by Guerin to GSOC while conducting his independent inquiry was inexplicably copied by him to the Taoiseach's Department, something which to date the Taoiseach has neither acknowledged nor explained.

Despite his promised departure, it is still a central objective of the Taoiseach and his closest advisers to eliminate any possible threat to the Taoiseach's stranglehold on the party and to preserve the status quo.

Perhaps, this is a habit born of longevity in leadership.

A majority of Fine Gael TDs have ministerial positions, the number of Ministers of State having been increased following the appointment of the current government. For as long as Enda Kenny remains Taoiseach, they are assured of their ministerial status and others will continue to occupy a variety of positions to which they have been appointed. Good people, to retain an active political role of relevance, perceive that their only option is to be silent and compliant and Enda Kenny knows it.

It is also perceived by his possible successors that their only option is to remain silent and look the other way for fear that a premature move or critical comment could scupper their chance of leadership.

The only deviation from such stance is the occasional media-friendly wink or populist Fine Gael-orientated nod, throwing shapes to ensure no party member forgets that their hat will be in the leadership ring once Enda finally departs the stage.

The truth is there is something rotten at the heart of the Fine Gael party. The truth is also that there is no such thing as new politics. It is a monstrous political fabrication, replicating the story of the emperor who has no clothes. It is a political construct as false as that of the much-heralded Arab Spring. Political commentators talk about it but there is nothing to see and it has no substance.

What masquerades as new politics is political and legislative paralysis; rarely taking responsibility for any controversial or hard decision that should be made and implemented in the public interest; kicking every can down the road; remaining in government at any cost and evading asking or responding to tough questions.

It also involves, with unprecedented regularity, evading the dangers of accountability by appointing a committee, a current or retired judge or a commission to mediate or conduct a review, an inquiry or investigation into politically dangerous and contentious issues.

"New politics" is regarding truth as a variable commodity. The corrosive impact of alternative facts has been contaminating Irish politics long before this Orwellian concept was given a revived public prominence by those involved in the Trump administration.

It gives me no pleasure to predict that if nothing changes, Fine Gael's future will be in opposition with a substantially depleted parliamentary party after the next election.

It gives me no pleasure to write this as a member of Fine Gael for some 37 years and having been a member of the parliamentary party for over 30 years.

It also gives me no pleasure as I know as a consequence of what I write, I will likely be criticised and denigrated by some former parliamentary party and Cabinet colleagues, who recognise the truth in at least some of what I am saying but who choose to ask no hard questions and to look the other way to avoid charges of disloyalty and becoming embroiled in stressful controversy.

Both they and some commentators will inevitably depict me as having some chip on my shoulder when I am simply saddened by what has happened to a Fine Gael leader (and some other former colleagues with whom I closely worked) whom I used to greatly like, admire and respect, and a party to which I have been devoted for almost my entire adult life.

Chips are not the issue and I cannot personally gain from what I say. From the perspective of personal vested interest, I would be better, like others, staying shtum or silent.

After the media frenzy in which I was engulfed in 2014 and the many false allegations to which I was subjected - as independently refuted by Judges Cooke, Fennelly and O'Higgins - I have no desire for renewed public prominence.

But this is about the public interest, the future of the Fine Gael party and the future of our country. It is about the future of our democracy, how our politics, government and parliament work, ensuring no future financial and economic disaster and promoting better standards in public life. It is about the future of Irish politics and the doors that are opening wider to the benefit of those addicted to populist politics, socially divisive and destructive rhetoric and who opportunistically feed off people's fears and real concerns. It is about the risk of our having a Trumpian future.

It is also a call to loyal Fine Gael members and supporters to recognise that compliant unquestioning loyalty is not enough.

It is a call for action to ensure Fine Gael has a future role that matters and it is recognised that there are core values that must be respected in public life that are bigger and more important than any individual politician's ambition and self-interest and any one political party being in government.

The crucial issues relate to the role of Fine Gael in government, the character, conduct and core values of those in leadership positions, the importance of truth in public life and a real moral compass which prioritises truth, decency, integrity, the public and national interest over any individual's personal political ambition, self-interest or self-serving narrative.

Essentially, it is about what can be done to ensure a better future for all of those who live on this island which we call home and to enable a revitalised and fundamentally reformed Fine Gael party occupy a meaningful space that matters, a space that not only attracts but also deserves substantial public support.

It is also about Fine Gael at leadership level rediscovering its moral compass and acknowledging that in politics and public affairs, the truth really matters and is a core Fine Gael value that is not expendable.

Alan Shatter TD is a former Minister for Justice

Sunday Independent

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