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Friday, February 12, 2016

A vote against corruption and cronyism is a vote for Trevor ó Clochartaigh

Trevor Ó Clochartaigh

Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh has used his term in the Seanad to fight passionately for the rights of the people of Galway West and South Mayo.

Trevor is the party’s spokesperson on the Diaspora, the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and Rural Affairs, and has campaigned on the scourge of emigration and the lack of investment in the West. He has worked tirelessly for a Fair Recovery for lower and middle income families. He has challenged vested interests in the health, education, social and economic sectors to deliver on their responsibilities regarding equal access for all citizens.

Trevor has also campaigned fearlessly for the marginalised, the forgotten and the underprivileged to make sure that all of the children of Ireland are treated equally. He has stood up for his constituents on local, national and international stages to be a strong, fair and forthright advocate for the people of Galway, Mayo and rural Ireland.

Oifig BÁC/Dublin Office:
Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
Teach Laighean/Leinster House,
Baile Átha Cliath 2/Dublin 2

(00353) 1 6184067 (BÁC/Dublin)
Oifig na Gaillimhe/Galway Office:
Trevor Ó Clochartaigh
Urlár 3/3rd Floor,
Teach Ross/Ross House,

Br. na gCeannaithe/Merchants Road,
(091)567921 (Gaillimh/Galway)
An Caorán Beag,
An Cheathrú Rua,

Co. na Gaillimhe/Co. Galway

Legal profession waged four-year battle against reform Bill

Department of Justice files reveal Law Society and Bar Council communications

The power of the legal professions is made clear in Government records detailing the force and extent of their four-year lobbying offensive against measures to overhaul the sector.

Files from the Department of Justice show how the Bar Council, the professional body for barristers, received and rejected draft amendments to legislation before they had been presented to Cabinet.
The files also show the Law Society, the solicitors’ body, overcame a late push by the office of the Attorney General to block arrangements under which it retains key disciplinary functions.
The records, released under Freedom of Information rules, centre on the Legal Services Regulation Act, which was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins six weeks ago.

Sensitive aspects
The files show the Law Society sent scores of letters and emails to the department on policy and technical matters. There were 12 formal submissions from the Bar Council.
When discussions on sensitive aspects were still under way in July 2014, Bar Council director Jerry Carroll sent a “private and confidential” letter to the department in which the body dismissed “controversial” draft amendments – which had not yet been presented to Cabinet.

“We appreciate the fact that we received a draft of the amendments before they went to Cabinet. This is consistent with the spirit of consultation and co-operation in relation to the Bill,” Mr Carroll said.

He said the Cabinet should not be asked to take amendments on a levy on the profession and on proposals to allow lawyers work alongside other professionals, such as accountants. “Some of the amendments are controversial (even though some may appear on the face of it to be non-controversial),” he added. “We are concerned that it is possible that the Cabinet may be asked to approve these (controversial) amendments at a time when the consultation which it has agreed will be carried is ongoing.”

Introduced in 2011 by former minister for justice Alan Shatter, the legislation was cast to reduce legal costs and modernise the professions.
However, after a prolonged campaign, both the Bar Council and Law Society emerged with key powers intactwhen the lawBill completed its passage through the Oireachtasin December.

The Law Society retained financial and accounting oversight of solicitors when Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald released financal amendments last November.
The files showthat one month previously the Attorney General’s office was pushing one month previouslytowards a transfer of alldisciplinary powers from the Law Society “in all matters.”

While a new body will now provide independent regulation of the professions for the first time, numerous steps to water down the legislation have prompted concern that legal costs will not be cut.

At the same time, the files also show that the Health Service Executive sent a paper to the department in whichwrote to the departmentit stresseding the importance of the original plan in its drive to curtail “excessive”legal costs. In addition, former Director of Corporate Enforcement Paul Appleby wrote to Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton in 2012 to express doubt that the original proposal was sufficient to control or reduce “very high” legal costs.

He referred to the “relative silence” of the legal profession on costs, in comparison to their previous opposition to other changes

“When the relative silence of the legal profession in relation to the new arrangements for adjudicating on legal fees is compared with the very considerable opposition to the Bill’s changes in respect of supervisory structures, Mr Appleby said: “I have a concern that this reflects a belief that the anticipated reform of legal costs is not particularly ambitious and is unlikely to have any material impact on the level of costs being awarded,” Mr Appleby wrote.

Arthur Beesley

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Irish Special Criminal Court is a Kangaroo Court

The Irish Special Criminal Court is a Kangaroo Court in everything but name and justice has nothing to do with it. It had already been roundly condemned by the Irish Council for Civil Liberties,  Amnesty International and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.  It just take two judges to convict and there is no jury to restrain their hidden political affiliations or prejudices, and if we are reduced to that, then they might as well bring back a shot to kill policy and internment without trial. If that seems extreme it is no more so than what this ‘Special’  Court is about.  

To begin the trail of injustice to this court we must start with the Police and one that has shown incompetence and corruption at an equal level. Gerry Adams said very kindly that they are lazy which lays the foundation for the rest. If we cant find the evidence lets just plant it before we have our breakfast roll.

One group of suspects were brutalised by the Police before getting the ‘Special' treatment in these Kangaroo courts while another got convicted there on the rather suspect evidence presented by Gardai which turned out to be more than false.  The major criticisms of this court is that it was set up as a terrorist court but are increasingly trying domestic crimes.  

The killing at the boxing weigh-in at a hotel in Dublin recently, and other related ones before and after, is from criminal gangs only whose political motives are none.  When the hotel manager tried to call the Police three times, he could not get through to anyone, breakfast roll or no.  It was a Gardai friend of his who eventually tried to get the ball rolling. The series Killinaskully is never far from the mind when you think of these genius cops and now they want to arm themselves with AK-47’s as well. Suffer the thought. If we only thought we were in danger before then we certainly are now and not from the criminals.  

The Police force in Ireland is a mess.  The Ombudsman policing them might as well have a tin whistle and any other whistle blowers with the courage to take on these beer swilling brothers of the after hours and penalty points fraternal brotherhood, better think again, and have a career change in place before they find they have no career at all.

Barry Clifford

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Coping: Epicurus was right about friendship

FRIENDSHIP WEEK: Such bonds are essential to human happiness – but it’s important to know when to walk away

Epicurus thought that friendship was essential to human happiness. So essential, in fact, that he did something that by modern standards would be considered a backwards step. In 306 BC, when he was 35, he moved in with his friends.

Most people today consider themselves fortunate if they have managed to move on from shared living by that age. It is considered a mark of progress to be able to afford your own space. Besides, many friendships crumble beneath the weight of dirty dishes and judgment that is cohabitation, and this is something most of us have experienced at some point. There are “friends” and then there are friends.

I have been reading Epicurus again because I needed a reminder of what friendship is, or should be. Under the lens of friendship, seemingly petty things become important, because such relationships must be reciprocal. When we perceive that a friend doesn’t value us, the asymmetry can create hurt feelings and resentment and this – unless worked out – will doom the relationship.

Avoiding confrontation
I have one of those friends: the flighty sort who is brilliant company but for whom all interaction is on her terms; who will go off the radar when work is busy or when she just doesn’t feel like socialising. In other words, the type of friend who will always put herself first. She is not someone you would call upon in a crisis, but she is the sort of person you could discuss anything with intelligently and is ultimately good.
A year ago she let me down in a very real way, and I just couldn’t help but feel differently about her. I took the coward’s route of avoiding confrontation. Obviously, as a matter of principle, people should be honest in that situation. I should have contacted her to say that I felt hurt by her actions and given her the chance to react, or not.

Instead I avoided her, feeling prickled and ignoring her every time she asked if I was free. I was incensed that she didn’t feel the need to apologise for her previous actions and I felt she had ruined the friendship by pretending nothing was wrong.
If you think about it, Epicurus was right. Friendships are essential to our happiness. It is easy to tell because when a relationship with a friend is not as it should be, we become tense and unsettled.

We take good friendships for granted while they are at their best, and often fail to nurture them. Sometimes, to keep the appearance of peace, we will tolerate bad relationships with people who don’t treat us with the standard of respect and care that we apply to them. These are the ones we think about more, but usually fail to extricate ourselves from, because we don’t want to make a fuss or we fear being judged.

Purpose and meaning
There is no such thing as unrequited friendship, only bad friendships. As Epicurus recognised, good friends know our foibles, and accept them. Their estimation of us is not related to how important society in general considers us to be, or how much money we made last year. By listening to us, friends give purpose and meaning to our thoughts and ideas. They make us feel understood, and less lonely.

Close bonds like these are always based on a sense of equality, and friends should be interested in our lives and wellbeing. If a friendship makes you feel lonelier than actually being alone, you must have the courage to step away from it.

If you are the sort of friend who will take time from your life to honour the best aspects of someone you care about, then you deserve the same in return. Step away politely and decisively if you don’t feel valued. We can all sometimes fall into the pattern of being bad friends. More often than not, it’s the result of circumstance rather than character. If someone you care for is on your mind, call him or her and acknowledge the neglect or wrongdoing. With two willing parties, almost anything can be salvaged.

 Laura Kennedy

The man who stares at goats: How Gerry Adams conquered Twitter

Gerry Adams is one of Ireland’s most controversial figures, yet is utterly endearing and idiosyncratic on Twitter. What’s his secret?

Gerry Adams has just published a book. Within those covers, he offers his lucky readers a selection of his favourite tweets, sent by himself, over the last few years. Called My Little Book of Tweets, it is generating quite a bit of excitement.
The Sinn Féin bookshop, where it is available for purchase, sums up what’s included: The tweets range from the ‘political to the personal’, but also include ‘rubber ducks and teddy bears’.
Anyone who has glanced at Mr Adams’ Twitter feed will know that, at times, the content looks dramatically, almost madly different from any other politician: A picture of his loofah, a selfie with a goat, and, over the weekend, fried eggs.

Mr Adams, the president of Sinn Féin, has escaped assassination attempts and weathered internment, and is accused by many, from Enda Kenny downwards, to having been a major force in the IRA — a claim he has always rejected.
It is easy to feel strongly one way or another about Mr Adams’ role in the rise of modern republicanism, but impossible to see it as anything but an important and consequential one. Why is he posting a selfie with a goat? His tweets might appear random, even mad, but they aren’t. It is all much cleverer, and probably more deliberate than that.

I think Mr Adams has realised something very important. The public is sick of airbrushed, professional politicians. They are sick of empty soundbites and catchphrases, of media training, cliches and focus groups. They don’t want to be studied by politicians like rats in a cage, and don’t want to be told only what politicians think they want to hear.

Carefully controlled photocalls and centrally mandated slogans look and feel sterile on social media, and they have never got people excited or galvanised by the people who make them.
People want humans, not PR. Across the world, the pendulum of political charisma has swung away from the Tony Blairs and Enda Kennys, and towards the Boris Johnsons, Donald Trumps, even the Gerry Adams.
Being seen to be a living, breathing human, even a silly or buffoonish one, is the next smart brand for politicians. Mr Adams also knows that a large digital following is an important asset.

Followers and friends, likes and retweets are the new currency in politics; they give you a louder voice, a more vocal and galvanised body of supporters, even people — as Barack Obama has showed — that are willing to take their digital support offline, as volunteers and voters.
All the silliness of Mr Adams’ tweets has given him a very serious, precious asset in the busy, noisy wilds of social media: Visibility. He is, hands-down, Ireland’s most powerful politician on Twitter. He has 99,308 followers, the most in Ireland, and over twice as many followers as his closest rival, Enda Kenny (42,335). It’s also more followers than that of every Fianna Fáil candidate put together (93,670), more than all the Social Democrats, and more than all the Greens. A large following means oxygen on Twitter and, last week, Mr Adams, was mentioned more than anyone else. At more than 4,800 times, this surpassed every candidate for Fianna Fáil combined (4,695).

All of this visibility translates into impact. Most politicians in Ireland barely garner a following, and barely tweet anyway. But for impact, one politician, as shown in the accompanying graph, is soaring above their peers: Yes, you’ve guessed it, Gerry Adams.
It’s not only about visibility. Not all the engagement with Mr Adams on Twitter is positive, as you’d expect from a man with his background. But it’s a lot warmer than you’d think. This is exactly because all the pictures of rubber ducks, loofahs, and goats give people what they are often desperate to see in politicians: His human side.

His Twitter feed is a window into his life; what he eats, the music he listens to, his pets, his hobbies. Few politicians have been able to show their human side, and still fewer are able to use social media — so successfully — to do so.

That human warmth is vital to break through the mixture of cynicism and indifference that most voters, generally, have. People respond to Mr Adams on a personal level; wishing him a good day, or goodnight, asking after his health, or inviting him to the pub.
This starkly compares to Mr Adams’ closest rival on Twitter, Mr Kenny. His output is much more careful, more airbrushed, and professional, and provokes a much angrier, exasperated response from many Twitter-using members of the Irish public.

None of this means, of course, that Sinn Féin will romp to power, or that Mr Adams will be the next person to sit in the taoiseach’s chair. Tweets about ducks and cakes are not, in themselves, the key to high political office.

But platforms such as Twitter will increasingly matter in elections. They will be an increasingly important way for parties to rally their troops, and an increasingly significant influence on how politicians are understood, and engaged with, by the wider public.
Using Twitter in the right way will matter more and more, and Mr Adams’ loofahs and selfies are hitting the bullseye. Twitter, for many politicians in the general election campaign, will be an embarrassing necessity. For Mr Adams, it will be a powerful weapon in the run-up to election day.

Carl Miller is research director at the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media @carljackmiller

New bishops told abuse reporting ‘not necessarily’ their duty

Pope Francis leading the Ash Wednesday mass in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican on Wednesday. 

The Catholic church is telling newly appointed bishops that it is “not necessarily” their duty to report accusations of clerical child abuse and that only victims or their families should make the decision to report abuse to police.
A document that spells out how senior clergy members ought to deal with allegations of abuse, which was recently released by the Vatican, emphasised that, though they must be aware of local laws, bishops’ only duty was to address such allegations internally.

“According to the state of civil laws of each country where reporting is obligatory, it is not necessarily the duty of the bishop to report suspects to authorities, the police or state prosecutors in the moment when they are made aware of crimes or sinful deeds,” the training document states.

The training guidelines were written by a controversial French monsignor and psychotherapist, Tony Anatrella, who serves as a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Family. The Vatican released the guidelines - which are part of a broader training programme for newly named bishops - at a press conference earlier this month and is now seeking feedback.

Details of the Catholic church’s policy were first reported in a column by a veteran Vatican journalist, John Allen, associate editor of the Catholic news site, 

‘Best practices’
Allen noted that a special commission created by Pope Francis, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, had appeared to play no role in the training programme, even though it is supposed to be developing “best practices” to prevent and deal with clerical abuse.

Indeed, a church official familiar with the commission on abuse said it was the committee’s position that reporting abuse to civil authorities was a “moral obligation, whether the civil law requires it or not”. The official said the committee would be involved in future training efforts.

The current guidelines written by Anatrella make only passing references to prevention policies. The French monsignor is best known for championing views on “ gender theory “, the controversial belief that increasing acceptance of homosexuality in western countries is creating “serious problems” for children who are being exposed to “radical notions of sexual orientation”. He did not return a request for comment.
The guidelines reflect Anatrella’s views on homosexuality. They also downplay the seriousness of the Catholic church’s legacy of systemic child abuse, which some victims’ right groups say continues to be a problem today.

While acknowledging that “the church has been particularly affected by sexual crimes committed against children”, the training guide emphasises statistics that show the vast majority of sexual assaults against children are committed within the family and by friends and neighbours, not other authority figures.

The training course began in 2001 and has been taken by about 30 per cent of Catholic prelates. The guidelines on child abuse was presented to new bishops last September in the annual training course organised by the Congregation for Bishops, Allen noted.
‘Zero tolerance’
Pope Francis has called for the church to exhibit “zero tolerance” of sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable adults by clergy and that “everything possible must be done to rid the church of the scourge of the sexual abuse”.

He said in a 2012 interview - when he was still a cardinal - that he was once called by a bishop asking him for advice on how to deal with an allegation of sex abuse. Cardinal Bergoglio - as he was then known - allegedly told the bishop to take away the priests’ licences and begin a canonical trial that would deal with the matter internally.
SNAP, a US-based advocacy group for abuse victims that has been very critical of Pope Francis on the issue, said the news outlined in Allen’s Crux article proved that the church had not substantially changed.

“It’s infuriating, and dangerous, that so many believe the myth that bishops are changing how they deal with abuse and that so little attention is paid when evidence to the contrary - like this disclosure by Allen - emerges,” the group said in a statement.
The news comes just days after the abuse commission forced one of two abuse survivors who had personally been appointed by Pope Francis to leave the committee following a vote of no confidence. Peter Saunders, a British abuse survivor and vocal critic of the church’s alleged lack of action on abuse, said he was blind-sided by the vote.

According to a recent press release over the weekend that did not mention Mr Saunders’s removal, the committee has been busy finalising proposals for Pope Francis’s consideration, including whether the pope ought to remind all church authorities of the importance of responding directly to victims who approach them, and the finalisation of a day of prayer for victims. It is also developing a website to share best practices for children all around the world. 
The Vatican declined to comment.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner

Stephanie Kirchgaessner

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Marcus Aurelius: Thought For The Day

"Everything we hear is an opinion and not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective and not the truth.

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor (161-180 AD)

1916 lives: Passionate words by James Connolly gave hope to many

                                   James Connolly was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, on 5 June, 1868.

His parents were Catholic Irish immigrants and, like many of their neighbours, they struggled through life in the slums of the Cowgate, known as Little Ireland.
Connolly received a little education in a local school but by the age of 11 he was working as a printer’s devil for the Edinburgh Evening News.

A little-known fact about him is that he joined the British Army when he was 14 by falsifying his age, and found himself stationed in Ireland. It was in Dublin that he chanced upon Lillie Reynolds, and, despite her Protestant upbringing, the two struck up a relationship and eventually married in Scotland after seven years in the British army.

Connolly’s interest in socialism was stimulated by a freedom of speech campaign in Scotland which was addressed by John Leslie, with whom he struck up a lifelong friendship. He became very active with the Socialist League and a multitude of similar organisations over the years, which resulted in him being black-listed by employers.

Leslie made an appeal for work for Connolly in a socialist newspaper called Justice and it was the Dublin Socialist Club that answered the call and invited Connolly to come to Dublin as their paid organiser.
Connolly and his small family came to Dublin in May 1896, where he reformed the Dublin Socialists into the Irish Socialist Republican Party which one wry commentator in a newspaper described as having “more syllables than members”. He struck up friendships with leading activists, including Maud Gonne and Alice Milligan, who published his articles in Shan Van Vocht.

In one such article, titled ‘Nationalism and Socialism’, published in 1897, he called for a republic that would be a “beacon-light to the oppressed of every land”.
“If you remove the English army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts would be in vain. England would still rule you.”
Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Day, 22 June 1897, was marked by Connolly and Maud Gonne with protests on the streets of Dublin. Connolly dumped a symbolic coffin into the River Liffey and shouted “to hell with the British Empire”, for which crime he spent the night in jail.

The ISRP decided to establish their own journal in 1898 called The Workers’ Republic. Connolly was the writer, editor, printer, and seller, and whatever meagre income was generated by the paper it went some way to feeding his growing family.

In 1902, an invitation to undertake a lecture tour of the US on behalf of the American Socialist Labor Party, who reprinted a pamphlet of Connolly’s writings, was gratefully accepted. The lecture tour lasted months and he travelled thousands of miles but when he returned to Dublin there was a terrible split in the IRSP.
It would appear that all the money Connolly had raised through selling subscriptions to The Workers’ Republic had been wasted on alcohol by the members. Connolly, as a non-drinker, was understandably livid and resigned from the organisation and eventually decided to emigrate to the US.
He spent seven years in New York, where he eventually secured a decent standard of living for himself and his family. Various jobs included working in the Singer sewing factory, and, at one stage, he was an insurance agent.

In the US, he founded another journal, The Harp, and befriended the famous radical Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Connolly also became New York organiser for the Workers of the World (Wobblies), the revolutionary Union founded in Chicago in 1905. Connolly would have known such luminaries as ‘Big’ Bill Haywood, Mary Harris ‘Mother’ Jones, Eugene Debs, and Bill Trautmann.

However, much to the upset of his wife Lillie, he returned to Ireland in 1910 for a lecture tour but wrote to her from Dublin to tell her to pack up and come back home.
Connolly’s Labour in Irish History was published in November 1910. Described as a “work of genius”, it is perhaps one of Connolly’s greatest literary contributions and is written in the style of the proletariat who knows his audience.

Jim Larkin, the ITGWU leader, eventually gave Connolly a job as an organiser in Belfast and the family set up home off the Falls Road. Connolly and Larkin were comrades but never friends.
They fought the bitter Lockout of 1913-14 and could claim equally to have been the founders of the Irish Citizen Army, but it was Connolly who turned that militia into a revolutionary army as opposed to a workers’ defence force. Larkin would not have countenanced the use of the ICA as part of the Army of the Irish Republic during the Rising, but Connolly was willing to put aside any small differences of opinion and unite with the Irish Volunteers and Cumann na mBan in 1916.
Everyone knows that Connolly was shot in Kilmainham Gaol, too weak to stand from injuries he received during the fighting in the GPO.

His legacy lies in his writings, passionate words, words which he transformed into deeds and which gave hope to the aspirations of more than one generation and will continue to encourage until his vision of an equitable world is achieved.

Lorcan Collins is author of James Connolly in the 16 Lives series published by O’Brien Press
Lorcan Collins

The absence of accountability runs the risk of corrupting our state

WE HAVE a really deep problem of accountability in our country. I shouldn’t have got to the venerable age I am without realising this. I am absolutely convinced that the issue of accountability, and how its absence runs the risk of corrupting our state, should be a central issue in the general election campaign. Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be room in the “fiscal space” to allow the issue even to be discussed.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Grace here. I was by no means the first person to write about her, nor the first to start a campaign to try to get to the truth of what happened to her. There is now a consensus that we need to know that truth, that we can do no justice without getting to the bottom of it.

And yet those who claim to know the truth can’t share it. There’s a Garda investigation — and ironically (because aren’t Garda investigations supposed to be about getting to the truth?) that very fact is preventing Grace’s story from being told. If I can believe what I read, it hasn’t even been possible so far for the HSE to share the reports they have with the State agency (Tusla) that was set up specifically to protect children.

There is now to be an independent enquiry. It’s essential, and its terms of reference must be broad enough to enable them to get to the root causes of why abuse can happen, and why it’s so easy to turn a blind eye to it. I hope they get the paperwork they need without obstacle, and I hope they’re free to publish everything they find. But in the country we live in, I worry that it may not be so simple.

Since I first wrote about Grace, I’ve heard so many stories that I now know we are only at the tip of the accountability iceberg. I’ve spoken to families who have sought for years to have allegations of physical abuse, deep neglect, and sometimes sexual abuse investigated, and have been met with locked doors and intransigent officialdom. I’ve heard from social workers whose health has been broken by the way the system has dealt with their attempts to raise concerns.
I’ve met family members who have been threatened with prosecution for making “false” allegations that the authorities have refused to investigate or take seriously. I’ve met whistleblowers who can only talk surreptitiously for fear of their careers or because there’s an implicit threat to the funding of their organisations.

I’ve also had calls and comments from people who have pointed out that there are many other areas of abuse in Ireland that go unchecked — not just those involving people with disabilities. Disadvantaged communities have seen many broken promises, there is a growing phenomenon of elder abuse, people dependent on the direct provision system live lives akin to the poorhouse system of old, people who desperately need access to mental health services have no rights whatsoever.

Alongside all that I’ve had correspondents who have accused me of being stupid and naïve because I should have realised years ago that politics is corrupt, public administration is corrupt, and democracy is dead. Maybe I am stupid and naïve, but I don’t believe politics is essentially corrupt. I have always believed that most politicians start off with honourable intentions, and most maintain those intentions through all the compromises that political life brings.

But authority works differently and always has. Ten years ago the Ryan Report talked about the peculiar and sickening relationship between Church and State, a relationship that was used to abuse generations of Irish children with impunity. That relationship may be gone, but it has not been replaced by accountability.

Instead we’ve had nearly another generation of impunity, and it has dragged every institution into mistrust and cynicism. Banks, builders, politicians, the legal and accounting professions, doctors, sports people, people who run charities. The list goes on and on. You can argue on the one hand that the behaviour of a few people in each category on the list was what did the damage. But the truth is that we lived, and still do, in a country where impunity is considered more valuable than accountability.

In 2011, by a majority of 53% to 47%, we rejected a proposal to change the Constitution to give Oireachtas Committees greater powers of investigation into matters of “general public importance”. That was a mistake — although the mistake wasn’t ours. The provision was badly drafted and sweeping, and the campaign was rushed, with an air of arrogance about it.

I’ve always believed that (like in other jurisdictions) parliamentary enquiries can be a cornerstone of accountability. But the core job of such enquiries should be to hold public administration to account. I still believe that it would be possible to generate public support in a referendum for enquiries into matters of “general public importance” provided that those matters arose from the administration or maladministration of public policy.

But even that doesn’t go far enough. The oddity is that we have a written constitution. That constitution has language in it, in one of its articles, that would go a long way towards addressing the fundamental issue of accountability throughout our system.
It’s old-fashioned language, but it’s robust enough to be useful. It talks about the welfare of the whole people. It refers to a social order informed by justice and charity. It sets out real priorities for our state, including that people should have the right to make reasonable provision for their domestic needs; that there “may be established on the land in economic security as many families as in the circumstances shall be practicable”; that efficient private enterprise should protect the public against unjust exploitation.

And it goes on to say that the “State pledges itself to safeguard with especial care the economic interests of the weaker sections of the community, and, where necessary, to contribute to the support of the infirm, the widow, the orphan, and the aged. The State shall endeavour to ensure that the strength and health of workers, men and women, and the tender age of children shall not be abused …” It’s powerful stuff, the stuff on which an accountable society could be built. But there’s a fatal flaw. All of this is in Article 45, and the introduction of the article says that these “principles” are only for the general guidance of the parliament, and can never be challenged in any Court.

It will be argued, of course, that we simply can’t afford these things — they’d wreck the economy, and that’s why we can’t make them or similar principles mandatory.

Well, here’s two layman’s lessons from history. Lesson one — real improvements in the human condition never wrecked an economy. The abolition of slavery didn’t do it, equality for women didn’t do it, freedom of speech didn’t do it. And lesson number two: A country that turns it back on accountability to its most vulnerable people wakes up some morning wondering how democracy died. It couldn’t happen to us, could it?

Fergus Finlay

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Let Dáil be no foil for masking ‘issues’

How easy is it for a powerful financial institution to take out a TD who won’t stop highlighting corruption?
These unrelated questions deserve pondering as night closes in on the 31st Dáil. Both point to a kind of politics more comfortable with suppressing awkward issues rather than addressing them.
The former concerns the whistleblower on the abuse in the southeast of a person with an intellectual disability. The social worker in question went round the houses trying to have addressed what she regarded as an appalling failure of the State’s duty to one of its most vulnerable citizens.

On Janaury 24, she told RTÉ Radio’s This Week about getting the runaround.
“It’s been about six and a half years that I’ve been seeking to have the matters addressed,” she told reporter John Burke. “We’ve had an independent inquiry that wasn’t published, reviews, reviews of reviews, it was raised with the director general of the HSE… and I still haven’t been able to get any answers — certainly on accountability.”

In desperation, and having exhausted all the normal channels, she sought out John McGuinness, chairman of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Only then then did the matter receive impetus, speeding towards a commission of inquiry. Only then was the public awakened to a scandal which had heaped State maltreatment on top of sexual abuse of a highly vulnerable citizen.

The connection between the scandal and accounting for public money is tenuous. Under a different chairman, it is likely that the woman would have been fobbed off with a recommendation she take her complaint to another forum. Not for the first time, McGuinness did not act according to standard convention. He listened and quickly understood that this was something that had to be aired. In doing so, he pulled a thread that finally led to an independent commission of inquiry poised to investigate a matter of the gravest public importance.

This is not the first time McGuinness’s committee turned out to be the last refuge of a despairing whistleblower. In late 2013, he was approached by Sergeant Maurice McCabe about abuse of the penalty points system by senior gardaí. On the face of it, this was an issue better examined by bodies primarily concerned with law enforcement agencies or road safety. But McCabe had been around the houses trying to get somebody to pay attention. And every time a door was closed on his face, it was accompanied with a note suggesting that this hornet’s nest was best explored elsewhere.

McGuinness simply saw that which others had averted their eyes from. He proceeded to investigate based on revenue lost to the State — a relatively flimsy basis — and out tumbled a full-blown scandal that ended with the resignation of a garda commissioner, and ultimately, a minister for justice.
Without the intervention of PAC, it is quite likely that the penalty points system may never have been properly reformed and, crucially, that McCabe’s more serious allegations of malpractice would never have been addressed. The Higgins commission of inquiry set up to investigate those matters is due to report in the next two months.

McGuinness isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. In some quarters of his own party, he is seen as a disrupter who gets high on the elixir of self-promotion. Recently, he has been criticised by other politicians for dragging his committee way beyond the boundaries of its remit.
Yet there is little doubt but that two major issues would have remained in the dark corners of State agencies if he hadn’t intervened and dragged them out into the public. What is shocking is that it took somebody in his role — ostensibly briefed to deal with money — to shine a light where other agencies opted to fumble around in the dark.

Mick Wallace mightn’t be everybody’s cup of tea either. The Wexford TD is a latecomer to politics. He was even late declaring his entry at the last election. His previous business problems — principally a failure to declare €2m in Vat — have been a feature of his first term in the Dáil. Wallace has, at times, been fast and loose in using parliamentary privilege.

However, he has also used the privilege correctly in highlighting matters of grave public concern. He had a role in the garda whistleblower scandal, reading the transcript of a crucial phone conversation into the record, and thus opening up a new avenue in the story which led to Micheál Martin meeting Sgt McCabe and bringing the garda’s concerns directly to Enda Kenny.

Even more important was Wallace’s intervention on Nama deals. Some of his allegations have not stacked up, but one contribution he made in the House turned out to be jaw-droppingly true.
On July 2, 2015, he told the Dáil £7m “ended up in an Isle of Man account” as part of Nama’s deal to sell off its Northern assets to US outfit Cerebrus. A Belfast law firm confirmed the bones of the story, setting off a major controversy about how some have been feeding off the misery which required Nama to be created.

The story was also embarrassing for the big business elements who like to portray themselves as keepers of the highest integrity. Since then, it has emerged that Cerebrus has a hold over their parliamentary tormentor. Apart from diving for assets in the North, the company also bought a portfolio of loans from Ulster Bank for about a quarter of its €6bn value. And among the portfolio was a €2m loan to Wallace. Ten days ago, Cerebrus was awarded a charge against Wallace’s assets.

The next step, if the honchos in Cerebrus are so minded, is to bankrupt Wallace, which, after his near certain re-election, would require him to resign his seat.
Is this what we’ve come to in crawling out of the economic hole into which the State and its citizens were thrust? A corporate vulture has acquired the capacity to silence a voice to whom the people have granted privilege to speak on their behalf?

No concern has been expressed from on high at this development. We are all expected to merely nod and shrug and say ‘the law’s the law’.

Right now, politicians of all hue are traipsing around the country waving promises, most of which involve consideration for voters’ immediate financial circumstances. The actions of McGuinness and Wallace have demonstrated that perhaps a little greater consideration should be given over to what else prospective members of parliament can bring to the job.

Michael Clifford