Sunday 17 December 2017

Bill will exorcise corrupt demons

THE vigour with which a corrosive culture of corruption eroded the initial civic virtue of the Irish State is epitomised by a vignette during the famous 'evil spirit' debate, which led to the resignation of Brian Lenihan Senior in 1991, when Fine Gael's Alan Shatter noted of a growing series of planning scandals that "in a year and a half we found it impossible to get a comprehensive statement from the minister for justice or the minister for the environment". The gentlemen in question were Padraig Flynn and Ray Burke; Charles Haughey was the Taoiseach whilst Bertie Ahern, who subsequently appointed Liam Lawlor as chair of a Dail ethics committee, was also in the cabinet.

It may have subsequently taken 21 years, but, in a classic example of the Chinese proverb about how if you sit at the riverbank long enough the bodies of all your enemies float by, the same Alan Shatter has introduced a virile anti-corruption Bill. The minister's measures will go some way towards quelling concerns that the reforming impetus from this Government has been dissipated by the horrors it continues to face. Its constitutionally complex proposals about the removal of office-holders, whoever they may be, by criminalising reckless payments to third parties who plan to use them as bribes, should be particularly commended by a Fianna Fail party that, in tandem with the Progressive Democratss, failed in its 14 years in power, to effectively deal with this issue.

Should Mr Shatter manage to get his long-awaited Insolvency Bill through before the summer recess, the Government will be entitled to seize its holiday-time buckets and spades with a clear conscience. We will, however, attach one doubting codicil -- that they would do well to be aware corruption is not some historical artefact locked in the national museum. Instead, as we know too well, the modern variant is far more subtle than the relatively innocent times of magical envelopes that turned fields of grass to fields of gold. The Government needs to match its current obsession with the, mostly Fianna Fail inspired, acts of the past with a wary caution about the future.

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