Thursday 17 January 2019

Time to clean up political system

SENATOR Ivor Callely issued a baffling statement on Saturday on the question of his Oireachtas expenses claims. Yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said that the explanation raised more questions than it answered.

This remark deserves to go down in the annals of great understatements. In fact, Mr Callely's account did not answer any of the questions to which the Seanad, the Fianna Fail party -- and, above all, the public -- would like to have clear answers.

It was confusing and in some respects contradictory. It mentioned two different figures for the sums involved. It referred to the senator's contacts with his legal advisers, but one would assume that lawyers would have insisted on greater clarity.

In short, it read like something written by a person who thinks himself cleverer than any lawyer -- a dangerous opinion for anyone, especially a politician, to hold.

Mr Callely's expenses are now the subject of no fewer than three separate investigations: one by a Seanad committee that will meet today; one by the Garda Siochana; and one by the Fianna Fail party's national executive.

Whether the affair will end in court action is impossible to foresee, and it would be improper to comment on it.

But the other two inquiries are of real importance for the body politic, and are rightly the subject of intense public interest.

However, the powers of both are strictly limited. Under the Constitution, Mr Callely cannot be expelled from the Seanad except on closely defined grounds, none of which can apply at present. By contrast, the Fianna Fail national executive can, if it so decides, expel him from the party. And if Mr Cowen supports that course of action, it is virtually certain to happen.

There is great irony here. The senator has been suspended from party membership for "conduct unbecoming". That was the charge, many years ago, against Des O'Malley, who was the hero, not the villain, of a controversy at the time. Is Irish politics any better now than it was in the mid-1980s? It is undoubtedly worse.

Throughout all the scandals, throughout the economic wreckage, the nod-and-wink culture has survived. Along with it has survived the practice, of which Saturday's statement is a model, of incomprehensible explanations and defences. No wonder public contempt and anger have swollen.

What matters now is not Ivor Callely's fate or future. What matters is to clean up the system that has earned the contempt.

Irish Independent

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