The more things change

Mark Khan looks back on a spring that saw a cultural change in Irish politics and a September that saw a reverse to type.

Seeds of change were sown in the early morning hours when the banking bailout was conceived by a sleep free finance minister whose main expertise was law and not economics. A guilt free cabal of bank directors whose main expertise was deceit not accountability added fuel to the fire.

But something was born in Ireland, something that not even the shameless charlatan Senator Ivor Callelly’s high court case can change, whatever its outcome. People expect more of their politicians, and they might even get it if they vote accordingly.

The wide variance between an Irish Prime Minister bought and paid for by the golden circle who brazenly flaunted his ill gotten wealth compared to the Swedish minister who resigned because they didn’t buy a TV license is as stark as it gets and shames us all in this country.

Yet this last few months has seen a new political culture in Ireland, where there is a decent chance that instead clinging on, politicians are starting to do the decent thing, resigning.

If for nothing else, we will remember a journalist on a 9 month vacation to the Dail quite fondly for starting a new culture in Irish politics. On 8th February George Lee resigned his seat due to being excluded from policy making and being cold shouldered, Fine Gael sources claimed he just couldn’t hack it in real politics, but the reality of life as a backbencher was best summed up by Lee “I have to confess that I have virtually no influence, no input whatsoever.’

Four days later on 12th February Senator Deirdre De Burca resigned due to ‘FF running rings around the Greens’, the Green Party began an exercise in damage limitation claiming it was because she did not get a position in the team of the new Irish EU Commissioner Maire Geoghegan Quinn. But people both inside and outside the party refused to join the attacks, instead hailing her as a great campaigner with great integrity.

Six days later on the 18th February Willie O’ Dea was forced to resign from the Ministry of Defense for perjuring himself in an affidavit over a slander case against a Sinn Fein councilor about brothels. It is thought in many circles that the Greens demanded his head so they could maintain they still have integrity after de Burca’s damning resignation letter.

Five days later on 23rd February Trevor Sargent resigned as Junior Minister when it is revealed he wrote a letter which could be construed as judicial interference, many claimed the letter was leaked from a Fianna Fail source to get revenge for the Green stand on Willie O’ Dea the week before, or as one FF TD was reputed to have said; “we put a bit of manners on them”.

Unlike O’ Dea who made a song and dance and had to be pushed hard to go, denying his words until it was played back in evidence, Sargent was credited with going quickly, of his own volition with the minimum of fuss accepting he acted inappropriately, reinforcing his own integrity which he displayed 2 years earlier when he stepped down as party leader

Two weeks later on the 8th March the Minister for Arts Martin Cullen resigns from the Cabinet and his Dail seat due to medical advice. Though many pundits put it down to the litany of scandals over the years while he was minister in various departments, it is a fact that Cullen was involved in a car accident years ago and had suffered from back problems since.

It seemed like we might be in a new world after the spring clean of the Dail and Cabinet, but in the autumn we had the fall back into old ways, with the announcement that 3 of the 22 female deputies in the Dail would not be contesting the next General Election.  On the 30th August Olwyn Enright announced her retirement at the next election due to family commitments, leaving room for her husband Joe McHugh TD to be the only man about the house (of parliament) while she went back to look after the kids.

On ability or chance of promotion this seems an odd choice considering she has served on the frontbench for 8 years, whilst he has yet to be appointed. A few days later on the 4th September Liz McManus announced her retirement at the next election to make way for a younger, fresher candidate, or in other words her son who is a councilor in Bray. Then 2 weeks later on the 22nd September Mary Upton announced her retirement at next election to make way for a younger, fresher candidate or in other words her nephew who is a Dublin city councillor.

After so much promise of change and a new culture in politics, the summer ended with a retreat back to male dynastic dominated politics, with all 3 female TDs standing back to support the political career of a male family member. Plus ca change, Plus c’est pareil.

You can hear Mark Khan in ‘The Week That Was’ every Friday @ noon on Campus Radio 98.3fm or www.ucc.ie/ccr

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