Wednesday 20 February 2019

An apology is worth nothing without action

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Getty Images


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has offered an overdue apology to Joanne Hayes, the woman caught in the Kerry Babies maelstrom. Ms Hayes was treated appallingly by powerful actors of our State.

She was let down appallingly both by the State and by her society "and that needs to change", the Taoiseach said.

One wonders what changes Mr Varadkar is thinking of and will there be accountability?

For not everything can be fixed with an apology - saying sorry is a necessary step in acknowledging wrong but it is not the only step. In the aftermath of the recognition of a terrible injustice, there can be a tendency to gloat at the past and console ourselves that such things could never happen in the "enlightened times" of today. The Ireland of 1984 was another country, we do things differently now.

That is true, but only up to a point. Joanne Hayes found herself hounded and traduced; it is vital that the hurt she suffered be recognised. But how confident are we that our society gives full protection to other women who are vulnerable and in need of help? Advocacy groups will attest to the low numbers prepared to come forward and press charges in sexual violence cases because of the way women find themselves treated in our adversarial legal system.

Reports over the years have highlighted the shameful under-investigation of domestic violence. And women still find themselves way down the pecking order when it comes to pay and status equality.

Real societal change comes about when there is full disclosure and exposure. When there is no institutional tolerance for discrimination. When inequality becomes an anachronism and not an everyday reality. Mr Varadkar's apology was no doubt sincere but for it to have real meaning we must have confidence that the powerful are also accountable. A frightened and victimised woman must know that her rights are as inviolate as the reputations of our institutions. That certainly was not the case in 1984, but how sure are we that it is so different today?

Varadkar's footing on tax rate is not secure

Caught between Brexit and a hard place, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar sought to bolster our European ties and defend core national interests in his address to the European Parliament.

In terms of commitment to the other 27 member states Mr Varadkar was on solid ground, but in seeking to defend our controversial corporation tax system in the face of stern opposition his footing was less secure.

If there is a race to the bottom in securing foreign direct investment Ireland has won it and there is no point in pretending otherwise. We did what was expedient and necessary, taking advantage of an opportunity at a time when there was no barrier to doing so.

Mr Varadkar stressed that EU member states should be able to retain the ability to set their own tax rates.

He sought to make a case for "peripheral and less developed countries whose domestic markets are small and need inward investment". With German and French eyes fixed enviously on our arrangements his arguments won't find much sympathy. With growth and employment rates powering on, the benefits of our multinational ties are evident, but we are unlikely to have it all our own way. Our 12.5pc corporation tax rate has been central to our success but it is in the crosshairs of other EU countries. Mr Varadkar believes that corporations must "pay their fair share of tax". "We cannot tolerate a situation where large companies can avoid paying any taxes anywhere," he said.

We shall see. But sometimes the only way to keep what you have is to change, and Europe is watching.

Irish Independent

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