Fergus Finlay: Bad behaviour goes unpunished for some, so it will continue to happen

Where's the leadership? Where’s the political gumption? Why isn’t it possible for our leaders to call things for what they are?

Fergus Finlay: Bad behaviour goes unpunished for some, so it will continue to happen

Where's the leadership? Where’s the political gumption? Why isn’t it possible for our leaders to call things for what they are?

I actually thought — and wrote it here — that we had entered an era when we could take honest and forthright leadership for granted, and that it was the one good thing that had been visible throughout the Brexit debacle.

But apparently it’s OK to be forthright about the Brits. When it comes to our own, honest and visible leadership isn’t quite so easy. Sleeveenery is better.

We’ve had a rumbling controversy for several weeks now about dishonest voting in the Dáil, and that has led to some “disquiet” about the possibility of faked attendance, for the purpose of maximising expenses. Tut, tut, our leaders have said. Perhaps the rules are too lax. Perhaps someone ought to investigate.

The primary responsibility of a legislator is to support legislation. When I worked in Leinster House, a vote could happen at any time. You had to be there. You had to walk through the lobby. You had to explain yourself if you weren’t there. Later, they reorganised themselves so that all votes, no matter when they arose, would take place at the same time. They did that for one reason only. For their own convenience.

And still, as we now know, they can’t bother their arses turning up. That is a fundamental betrayal of their constitutional roles, and the democratic jobs they’re elected to do. It is disgraceful behaviour, disgusting behaviour, and it deserves to be called out.

But our leaders, it seems, can’t bring themselves to do it. It’s clear that the unspoken fear is that “we’re all at it”. We can’t lead, because we might be complicit too.

On top of that, two Fine Gael notables have behaved in a thoroughly disgusting manner in the last couple of weeks. Everyone in Fine Gael, from the party leader down, knows it. Both of the people concerned remain members of the Fine Gael party, and one is still the selected candidate for the party whenever a general election is called.

I haven’t the faintest idea whether Verona Murphy is a racist. But I do know that she pandered extensively to the most racist instincts in her constituency in the recent by-election.

Not once, or accidentally, but several times and quite systematically. And when she was caught out by her own words she allowed an utterly dishonest video to be put up on social media trying to pretend that the whole thing was some Dublin media plot.

The fact that she came second when the first preferences were counted demonstrates that the racist dog-whistling might have worked. Luckily, the fact that she was overtaken in the end by George Lawlor of Labour, a man to whom that kind of politics is entirely alien, shows that the majority of people figured out what she was playing at.

But in the middle of it all, the Taoiseach snuck down to Wexford and spent a day supporting Ms Murphy’s campaign, while trying to keep out of as many pictures as possible. Forthright and honest leadership? Give me a break.

Then there’s Dara Murphy. A Fine Gael TD who drew his full salary and expenses — about €300,000 over two years — while at the same time working and being paid probably the same in Brussels. He turned up to Leinster House only the bare number of times to allow him to maximise his earnings, clocking in for “work” while on his way to or from the airport.

Verona Murphy. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

Verona Murphy. Picture: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

He failed utterly to make the slightest effort to represent the people who elected him. But he made a rake of money. Presumably he thought he was worth it.

That’s cheating, cheating within the rules maybe but cheating nevertheless. You would need a crowbar, however, to force a word like cheating out of the Taoiseach. Or to get him to use the word disgusting, which is another accurate way to describe Murphy’s behaviour.

Instead, all we get is blather about the rules (maybe) being too lax. They’ve known that for years. And they’ve also known that if a system is open to corruption, it will be corrupted, as sure as night follows day.

The behaviour of these two pales into insignificance beside the behaviour of John Delaney. John Delaney has brought an important national voluntary organisation to its knees by a combination of greed, hubris, grandiose self-entitlement, and criminal duplicitousness.

The only thing as bad as what he did is the appalling lack of political oversight that allowed it go unchecked until it caused untold destruction.

I was CEO of a voluntary organisation for 13 years. It had the same legal status as the FAI (it’s called “company limited by guarantee” status). Like the FAI, that organisation needed and depended on some state funding. Every year, the State agency that funded us required us to sign an SLA (a service level agreement), which covered the amount of funding and what was required of us in return.

We had directors in exactly the same way as the FAI. They knew their legal status and their legal responsibilities. And we knew too that the SLA conferred a right on the State agency funding us to send an auditor in at any time to make sure we were spending the State’s money appropriately.

That happened on one occasion. A detailed and searching audit, completely independent of us, was carried out. It resulted in a number of recommendations for improvement in our processes. But it also found that every penny we received from public funding was “correctly and fully accounted for”.

And it found that: “In Internal Audit’s opinion, the Board has established an appropriate system of internal control to ensure it meets its stewardship responsibilities.” If it had not done so, the Board of my organisation would have had to resign. So would I. And there could well have been an inquiry into how the Board discharged its responsibilities.

But the FAI? No internal audit. No external investigation, even though the misuse of money was out in plain sight. Waffle, followed by more waffle, from the government and the minister. Why can’t it be called out for what it is? Greed, arrogance, dishonesty.

Why aren’t the Garda Siochána knocking on John Delaney’s door looking for an interview? Just as important, why aren’t they knocking on the door of every single Board member, and inviting them down to the station?

Delaney’s behaviour was beyond disgraceful and his public demeanour was such as to make his sense of his own entitlement obvious to anyone with eyes to see.

I’m going to make two exceptions. In the voting scandal(that’s what it is) and in relation to his own encounter with a candidate happy to pander to racism, Michal Martin behaved with class. And the Labour Party — not that anyone ever seems to notice — simply doesn’t seem to have people who behave that way.

They don’t screw the system, and they don’t pander to our worst instincts. At least, thank goodness, there’s someone left to vote for.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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