Need for debate about standards in public life

AN abiding theme of recent letters to The Irish Examiner is the helplessness experienced by the Irish people to take effective action to redress the Government’s brazen funnelling of the nation’s wealth into the pockets of those who already have too much.

The moral corruption that permeates political life seems incurable. We are witnessing the logical consequence of the separation of morality from politics, with the consequent failure to bring politicians to account. The Dáil has become an inward looking, self-authenticating club that lives for itself and not for the country it purports to serve. The Seanad, intended as a provider of checks and balances to the deliberations of the Dáil, is a toothless observer of the TDs’ concern with their own cheques and bank balances.

The 16th century writer, Machiavelli, has been a very powerful role model for those who do not allow moral scruples to get in the way of the quest for political power. I have yet to meet a politician who believes that good ends can be brought about without resort to dubious means. The end is assumed to justify the means. The difficulty here is that the politician is corrupted by the dubious means but not healed again by the achievement of what was seen as a good end.

In Ireland, a more subtle factor is involved in the raw political expediency and moral blindness of so many politicians. Religious belief seems to provide the wayward politician with a comforting assurance that a loving God is waiting round the corner with the offer of forgiveness. I knew one politician who seemed to boast of his capacity for dodgy dealing. His constituents overlooked his chicanery as he was a daily communicant.

Clearly there is an urgent need for a widespread debate about standards in public life. I had thought that the end of Fianna Fáil would usher in a new dawn. Sadly, we seem to have changed the cast but not the play.

Philip O’Neill

Edith Road

Oxford

England

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