Accountability across society: Why are we so afraid of the truth?

FOUR years ago we described the rejection of the proposed amendment to the Constitution that would allow the Oireachtas conduct an inquiry that might lead to adverse findings against individuals as a victory for the Ansbacher classes. Tragically, but all too predictably, the Banking Inquiry has fallen into the same category.
Accountability across society: Why are we so afraid of the truth?

Hopelessly constrained from its belated inception, it could not — despite the best efforts of its sometimes outgunned members — come to the kind of conclusions that might show that our democracy values and expects public accountability in public affairs.

Once again our untouchables fly under the radar unscathed and oblivious to the prospect of even the mildest sanction.

They look set to do so again as the commission of investigation into IBRC and its dealings with Siteserv seems to be running in sand before it begins its core work.

The Banking Inquiry is another reminder of our very expensive but ultimately ineffective system of inquiry.

It joins the Beef Inquiry (three years and €35m), Flood-Mahon (15 years and €200m), McCrackin-Moriarty (13 years and €50m), Smithwick (seven years and €15m), Morris (six years and €70m), and Barr (four years and €18m) in this regard and though this far from comprehensive list suggests a determination to shine light into the darkest corners of our society, these inquiries are little more than official masked balls where everyone has an idea of who is dancing with whom, but ultimately they cannot do much about anything.

This corrosive stasis is underlined by the fact that it’s almost five years since McCrackin-Moriarty concluded that the the allocation of a mobile phone licence was compromised but none of those under a cloud have been challenged by any of the State’s supposedly independent legal officers.

This cultural aversion to accountability is not confined to our political or business life. The examples are myriad and disheartening.

We do not have school league tables. We must make an appointement to inspect a farmyard. The adminsitration of our building regulations was — and may yet be — laughable.

This week’s report on the gardaí is a damming indictment of the force’s management and represents the kind of failure that could only exist where those responsible know they will not be held to account.

Today’s overstretched force is, in part at least, a consequence of that mismanagement.

Last week’s shameful, and shaming, doublespeak by Taoiseach Enda Kenny on measures to curb climate change could only be offered by a man who is confident that he will not be held to any real account on the issue — or at least by anyone other than the farm lobby, a group that enjoys power ever more disporportionate to its contribution to society.

It is time we asked ourselves why we are so afraid of accountability, why we shy away from an insistence on proper standards — especially as we have a relatively new example of how very beneficial that culture can be.

The Health Information and Quality Authority has in a short time shown that challenging the old, lazy, indifference can change the lives of those using our health services.

We must forcefully apply those principles across society.

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