Yesterday’s report from Transparency International Ireland (TII) is positive news but it is more of the mildly reassuring kind than a cause for wild celebration.
TII tell us that we do not have the high levels of “conventional” corruption as is seen in some other countries but that we do have high levels of what they describe as “lawful” corruption.
Maybe we don’t have corruption on a Robert Mugabe scale, where a whole country is beggared by a cadre of top officials and politicians; where a whole county is in the grip of a cholera epidemic because the health and water supply systems have been destroyed by a corrupt and indifferent government.
We don’t have a former leader like Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who, Israel’s Justice Ministry said only yesterday, kept more than €275,000 in a secret fund and did favours for a US businessman who handed him cash-filled envelopes.
We should not be too complacent though and enjoy this rating before it is revised to reflect recent events.
However, there is much we can consider before that report is published. TII tell us that we have a problem with “lawful” corruption, or, as we might describe it in the vernacular, cute hoors pulling strokes.
We are all aware of things that are less admirable than we might wish. Each day we see the consequences of “soft touch” regulation and not just in banking. Every now and then a scandal involving self regulation by some profession or other dominates headlines for a few weeks. Reform is routinely promised and the whole affair is forgotten until the next scandal breaks, only to discover the legislation has not been put in place.
Former Waterford Crystal workers might point to failure to implement pension protection legislation recommended several years ago as an example. Did employers or financial services interests lobby against that proposal and if they did does that represent “legal” corruption or would an intervention just have been democracy in action?
There are many examples of the corrosive influence lobby groups can bring to bear on legislation. The emasculated EU Nitrates Directive, designed to protect our drinking water, and Michael McDowell’s proposals to control drink sales are two recent examples.
We may not regard this process as corruption but surely it is a corrupting, diminishing influence?
We may not regard the recent and hugely expensive animal feed scandal as corruption but what else was it?
We may not regard a bishop protecting a paedophile priest as corruption but what else is it?
We may not regard the notion of building something without planning permission and later applying for retention as corruption but what else is it?
Maybe it is that we don’t have the energy, confidence or conviction to confront wrongdoing as we should. Maybe we are culturally programmed to being anti-authority no matter what the consequences, too enthralled by cute hoorism and Killinaskully strokes.
For a while the call was for high standards in high places. Maybe it’s time to consider higher standards in everyday places. We would all benefit.