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Is this our Watergate?

SEAN O'Casey's creation Captain Boyle captured the predicament we find now find ourselves in when he lamented on the state of the nation in the throes of its bloody birth-pangs in 1922.

"The country'll have to steady itself ... it's goin' to hell ... no matter what they say."

These days, there seems to be no prospect of anybody taking the helm to steady the country. Instead every day that passes, we wonder where next will Enda Kenny and his Government take us.

In 2011 we handed them the biggest majority ever. After the events of recent days many of us can't wait to give them their P45s.

CONFIDENCE

The Cabinet we are assured has full confidence in Justice Minister Alan Shatter. Alan Shatter we are sure has full confidence in Maire Whelan, the Attorney General, and no doubt she reciprocates this.

But most of us don't have any confidence in them.

Nor are we brimming with approval for all those senior civil servants on big pay and generous pensions who advise them, but don't seem to be able to deliver letters or read reports that affect how we fight the war against crime.

Three years ago, Fianna Fail presided over an economic collapse that destroyed the hopes and lives of a generation. The people turned to a familiar alternative that promised a new and better Ireland.

Three years later, we now have the spectacle of a Fine Gael and Labour administration dramatically undermining our faith in the proper functioning of our Republic.

The citizen looks to the state to protect their rights, safeguard their lives and provide public services that assist them in their efforts to get on to the best of their abilities.

Central to that contract between the people and the state is a basic level of trust. We look to our police force to mind us, to take on the bad guys and enforce the law "without fear or favour, malice or ill will".

Well that idea has taken quite a battering.

The spate of weekly scandals are so frequent and vast in their implications we don't know where to turn or who to believe.

Every day appears to bring a new crisis or another inquiry – the latter of which is almost always good news for lawyers but bad news for the taxpayer.

We know that most gardai are honest and do their best to protect us and fight crime.

But thanks to the whistleblowers we have discovered that the Garda Siochana is plagued by an endemic culture of cronyism in its senior ranks that favours some above the rest of us.

The circumstances of the fall of Commissioner Callinan this week has revealed the full extent of the rot that has set into the force.

The revelation that phone calls in and out of garda stations all over the country were bugged for years has opened "a terrible vista". The nightmare scenario now facing us all is that the illegal tapping of these conversations may literally open the prison gates and free some of the very people we need most protection from.

When it comes to crime and punishment in Ireland it seems our world could be turned upside down.

We know the politicians we put into power are not angels. But we tend, when in a generous mood, to grant that they mean the best for us.

After all if we're happy and making a living, that reflects well on them. This "feel-good" factor is what every TD likes to take credit for.

For our part we like to see a degree of competence and straight dealing in return. This week the feeling grew day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute that the people running the country were in meltdown.

Strip away all the clutter from the controversies raging around Leinster House these days and what we see is the most dramatic erosion of public trust in the people we elect to govern us since Captain Boyle staggered on to the Abbey stage to tell us "the whole world is in a state of chassis".

The plot of the tragicomedy unfolding before us is hard to keep up with. The cast is getting bigger, the script more bizarre and the performances more surreal.

We the audience don't know who to believe and can you blame us. The guys supposed to be in charge seem incapable of believing each other.

While it is not the same, there are echoes of 1983, when a Garda Commissioner had to go when it emerged that he agreed to Justice Minister Sean Doherty's request to bug the phones of two journalists.

Ultimately that cost Charlie Haughey his grip on power. In 1992, Doherty claimed "the Boss" made him do it.

But to appreciate the scale of this scandal we have to go back to Richard Nixon. In 1974 the US President stepped down from office to avert a constitutional crisis. Watergate was a petty crime that went wrong. A group of old CIA hands bugged the HQ of the Democratic Party in 1972 and got caught. The buggers were agents of Nixon's re-election campaign.

WRECKAGE

The botched caper did not stop Nixon from winning a landslide. But the cover-up cost him the presidency and demoralised the faith Americans had in their leaders.

Standing back from the wreckage that lies across Kildare Street we see a parliament many demoralised citizens distrust, if not hold in contempt.

Minister Shatter may survive for now but his Government is doomed. Standing in the wings, waiting to pick up the pieces is not Fianna Fail but Sinn Fein.

The party that once justified the murder of police officers and members of our Army and Prison Service is now asking us to trust them with power. Many are heeding that call and turning to Gerry Adams to save the day.

That's how bad things are. Well done Enda, Alan and Eamon, take a bow.


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