After a gruelling few months dominated by the economy and abortion, the issues around corruption and maladministration raised by the final chapter of the report, an astounding 16 years in the making, might have provoked some passing embarrassment.
Government ministers or deputies, each elected on a platform of reform and renewal, might have been less than comfortable if questioned about what proposals they have brought forward to try to confront the corruption eating away at the integrity of this increasingly shabby and discredited Republic.
It is natural to recoil, or at least it should be, from that description of our country, but how else can a place where a tribunal, after 16 years of deliberations, concludes that there was widespread, almost institutionalised, corruption in our planning process but only one person — the poisoners’ messenger boy Frank Dunlop — has been jailed over the issue? How else can you describe a country where some of those found to be corrupt may have the legal bills they incurred at that tribunal paid by the State?
How else can you describe a country and a society seemingly content to be a spectator at its own implosion? How else can you describe a country where a month short of the fifth anniversary of our banking collapse not one person — banker, regulator, auditor, bondholder, or director — has had to defend their behaviour in a courtroom?
Of course this situation is not new and it is not entirely surprising that the response to the latest outrage is not as strong as it should be. Stretching all the way back to May 1991, when the Beef Tribunal was established, the absolute lack of consequences for wrongdoing has been recognised as a part of our national life. Inured by this failure of government — and specifically our justice system — outrage seems a pointless, self-destructive response, so why bother?
It is possible to reach even further into the past and suggest that the property interests who ensured that the report presented to the then local government minister Bobby Molloy on the price of building land, by Judge Kenny in 1974, did no more than gather dust are culpable in today’s crisis. They certainly are to some degree culpable in the situation described by the CSO yesterday when it said that almost half of households struggle to pay bills. Equally their fingerprints are all over the mortgage crisis described yesterday in AIB’s annual report. The number of that bank’s loans which are more than 90 days in arrears rose to 22.7% in June compared with 20.7% at the end of December.
When the Dáil resumes well into the autumn, the Government is committed to a campaign to have the Seanad abolished. In the grand scheme of things this is about as relevant to the crisis, and its causes, facing this country as the whereabouts of Shergar. This Government is more than halfway through its term in office and it is well past the time we had the kind of legislation and cultural change needed to confront the corruption detailed in outrageously expensive report after report. Why else were this lot elected?