Thursday 17 October 2019

Kenny's dignified exit holds key to stability

Enda Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers
Enda Kenny. Photo: Damien Eagers


In the months leading up to the May 2008 resignation of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, the Fianna Fáil leader embarked on a valedictory tour, addressing both the House of Commons and a joint meeting of the US Congress. The honour to address both houses was fitting for Mr Ahern, who led three coalitions and who played a critical role in the peace process that led to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Ahern's lengthy valedictory period, marked by a series of controversies arising from the Mahon Tribunal, was a costly one, coinciding as it did with the then-burgeoning banking and financial crises that gave rise to the bank guarantee in September 2008.

The constant debate surrounding the timing of Mr Ahern's departure was a distraction when the government's efforts were required to deal with the financial crisis that ultimately led to the EU/IMF bailout in November 2010.

The same could be said of the controversy surrounding the tenure of the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, who is embroiled in a now seemingly terminal leadership crisis.

It is a crisis aggravated by the egregious smear scandal against Garda whistleblower Sgt Maurice McCabe, which has led to the establishment of yet another tribunal of inquiry.

Like Mr Ahern, Mr Kenny deserves credit. He has made history as the first Fine Gael leader elected taoiseach twice in a row. He also presides over the fastest-growing economy in Europe. However, Mr Kenny has failed to grasp the consequences of his clinging to power and its destabilising impact on the Coalition, Fine Gael and public confidence.

In his resignation speech, Mr Ahern said that just as stability is important in a coalition government, it is even more vital in a political organisation. Mr Kenny should be mindful of that counsel and ensure next month's annual trip to the White House is his last as taoiseach to ensure an orderly transfer of power - for stability's sake.

Number should be up for archaic libel law lottery

Ireland's still archaic defamation laws have cast a long pall over freedom of speech and serve neither plaintiff nor defendant. By virtue of their cost and duration, Ireland's lottery-style libel laws are an affront to the public interest and freedom of expression.

A High Court judge reminded us yesterday of that affront when he warned that lengthy and costly libel actions could be have a "chilling effect for free speech", a right he described as one of "profound significance" in a dispute involving State broadcaster RTÉ and businessman Declan Ganley. And that was before any consideration of our awards in libel actions that dwarf, by multiples, awards issued in Europe and in countries with whom we share a common law legal system.

Mr Ganley alleges he was defamed in a November 2008 broadcast on RTÉ's 'Prime Time'. Legal proceedings were launched in 2011. It is now 2017 and the litigation has not yet even had a hearing date, mired as it is in pre-trial dispute over discovery (exchange of documents) between both sides. As Mr Justice Max Barrett observed, the long period between the alleged libel and the legal action is unfair to both Mr Ganley and the journalists who robustly deny he was defamed.

We cannot afford such an unwieldy and offensive system where freedom of expression is the constant loser.

Irish Independent

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