Daniel McConnell: Golfgate shows that we demand higher standards

It has been suggested by some that an out of control public appetite led to a disproportionate punishment in relation to Mr Hogan’s wrongdoing. What crap.
Daniel McConnell: Golfgate shows that we demand higher standards
Phil Hogan, file photo. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

Twelve years ago, the economy went off a cliff after our State-sponsored credit bubble burst in spectacular fashion.

Those in public office, who were charged with the safekeeping of our wellbeing, utterly failed in their duties and oversaw policies between 2004 and 2008 which exacerbated the crisis.

“We all partied,” as the late Brian Lenihan famously declared.

The most sickening aspect of that crash was the gross inequity of how the pain of the austerity was meted out.

Most if not all of the key players who flunked in their duties quickly hightailed it off into retirement on full pensions.

Indeed, some of the main protagonists in the Department of Finance and the Department of the Taoiseach had their pension terms significantly enhanced on their way out the door.

At a time when the poorest and most vulnerable people in the country were having their home help hours cut, their respite hours cut, and social welfare rates cut, the fat cats at the top who destroyed this country for a decade left, leaving the rest of us to pick up the tab.

It was the old boys' network looking out for one another, and to hell with public accountability.

A stark fact is that, for all the damage done to this country by officials and their political masters, not one public servant was sacked for their role in causing the crash in 2008.

Not one. Not one in the Department of Finance. Not one in the Central Bank. Not one in the Department of an Taoiseach.

The political masters certainly did get their P45s but the officials got boxed off and sorted as they exited stage left.

When pesky people like me kept asking why nobody was sacked, the reply constantly was, ‘that’s not what happens here'. It was galling and fuelled much of the anti-austerity anger which boiled over in 2014 at the time of the water charges controversy.

In 2020, the political landscape here has changed, and changed utterly.

No longer do the two old parties dominate, and the fracturing of political support has had a profound impact on how business is done here.

Different rules apply. Public accountability has begun to creep into the system here at long last.

The honourable resignation of Dara Calleary — less than 24 hours after the Irish Examiner’s Aoife Moore and Paul Hosford broke the story about the Oireachtas Golf Society event in Clifden — set the standard to which others present have been held.

Jerry Buttimer’s resignation followed quickly thereafter.

Those departures, despite what some establishment cheerleaders in the media have sought to argue, is right and proper.

It has been no witch hunt, but merely a strong signal from the people of Ireland that the old way of doing things is no longer tolerable.

Since the resignation of Phil Hogan on Wednesday night, we have seen a shameful and pitiful narrative emerge — that Ireland has shot itself in the foot by hounding out a good man for a minor mistake.

What crap. What garbage. What nonsense.

It has also been suggested by some who have made a career in being mouthpieces for the status quo that an out of control public appetite led to a disproportionate punishment in relation to Mr Hogan’s wrongdoing.

To begin with, the visceral reaction to golfgate was not a media-driven creation.

It was real. It was one of those rare occasions where everyday conversations were dominated by the controversy.

The jaded public, pushed to the limit of their endurance under Covid-19, rightly gave their opinion.

The old way of doing things would not suffice in this case.

Secondly, there is no element of disaster in Phil Hogan’s resignation as argued, except maybe for him personally. There may be inconvenience — but disaster? No.

It’s time to challenge all of those who have argued that Ireland as a country stands to lose because of the absence of his unique skill set and traits from the workings of the commission.

Anyone who thinks back to his time as minister of the environment need not look too far to see the trail of destruction left in his wake.

I’ll name just two matters which have lingered long — the abolition of town councils, and Irish Water.

Also, where were such calls six weeks ago when Hogan himself confirmed that he was looking for another job in the World Trade Organization (WTO) less than a year after his appointment to this ultra-crucial trade role? 

Which is it, lads?

Thirdly, Hogan’s presence in Galway represented such a lapse in judgement that it raised sufficient doubt over his suitability to continue.

However, his ever-changing narrative presented to the media and then to his boss, EU president Ursula von der Leyen — including his journeys in and out of Kildare even though it was under lockdown — made his position untenable.

His failure to give straight answers to straight questions to his boss and the media stripped him of any credibility and, by the time he fell on his sword, the story had become less about the initial offence, but rather his multiple breaking of the rules.

His defence — that his negative test for Covid-19 meant his quarantine period could be cut short — was blown out of the water. Indeed, even his timeline of events as presented to von der Leyen, which was meant to cover every move he made in Ireland, left certain critical details out.

For example, Paul Hosford earlier this week revealed that Mr Hogan was in Adare, Co Limerick, on the night of August 12, one day before his 14-day period of isolation ended.

While Hogan mentioned that he played golf in Adare on August 13, there was no mention of his dinner in the Dunraven Arms the night before.

Nor was there any mention of his trip to Roscommon on his way to the golf event in Galway.

Such omissions undermined the Government’s confidence in Hogan, and they were left with no option but to withdraw their confidence in him.

Having pressed the nuclear button in seeking his head, the Government here was on a collision course with the commission as long as Hogan remained.

With his resignation, Dublin has been vindicated, and the public’s demand for proper accountability has been satisfied.

Rather than trying to paint this as a sorry episode for this country, Hogan’s departure is a national victory for standards in public office.

In the eight weeks of this Government’s life, we have had four high-profile departures from senior positions — three related to golfgate, and then Barry Cowen.

In all cases, the right thing happened if public confidence in politics is to be restored.

That public trust broke here a decade ago when those responsible for the crash were allowed to escape sanction.

The events of the past eight days show a new standard is now required, and that people do demand accountability.

Far from bemoaning this development, I wholeheartedly welcome it.

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