In one scene, the prime minister is asked to do a favour out of loyalty to a former political friend. She refuses. “I am prime minister now,” she says. “And I am prime minister for everybody.”
Enda Kenny would do well to remember that. Because his loyalty to a political friend has hurt everybody. First the citizens who have rapidly been losing faith in the fairness of the penalty points system and the gardaí. Second, he has damaged the cohesion of his own government. Third, he has damaged himself and his own authority.
The Taoiseach is in awe of Alan Shatter. Alan Shatter is bright, brighter than Enda Kenny. But no Taoiseach should be led around by the nose by one of his ministers, no matter how bright they are.
At Cabinet meetings, Mr Shatter is allowed to go on for hours. Observers say he is allowed to talk about three times longer than any other cabinet minister. Time and again, the Taoiseach has taken Mr Shatter’s line on the various Garda controversies. For instance, in the GSOC bugging affair, instead of being concerned at the GSOC fear that they had been bugged, the Taoiseach criticised them for not reporting the suspected bugging and misquoted the law in the process. And when he was caught out misquoting the law, he then clutched another straw and said GSOC must have known they were wrong not to report the affair, because why else would they have apologised?
I remember sitting on the Dáil Press gallery listening to him that day, and getting that queasy feeling you get when someone who is basically decent and straight starts parroting a script written for him by someone else.
The Taoiseach has allowed Mr Shatter to lead him, the Dáil, and the public on a merry dance. First over GSOC, when Mr Shatter ordered an inquiry to look into GSOC’s own enquiry and then, without revealing any of the new enquiry’s details, announced airily that there was no evidence at all that bugging had taken place. Then he told the Dáil on the penalty points issue that the whistleblowers hadn’t cooperated with the O’Mahony enquiry — even cabinet colleagues like Pat Rabbitte suggest he was wrong about that.
Then the recent Garda Inspectorate report revealed that the whistleblowers had largely got it right. At this stage, alarm bells should have been going off in the Taoiseach’s head. He should have pulled the minister for justice in and demand that he publicly thank the whistleblowers for being brave enough to highlight this affair.
Instead the minister said grudgingly only that “they had got a number of things right”.
A minister who can’t admit when he’s wrong is a liability to any government, because he’ll bring them all down with him and not care a pin in the process. Ministers have sat appalled at Mr Shatter’s pigheadedness as the row goes on and on and political capital and energy is draining away by the newtime. How must Richard Bruton and Joan Burton feel to see all the fairly good news on jobs and falling unemployment levels pushed to the background as the Garda row dominates the headlines? And this in an election year?
How did Pat Rabbitte and Leo Varadkar feel having met and been impressed by Sergeant Maurice McCabe. And how did Leo Varadkar feel last Thursday at that road safety conference looking out at an audience which included victims and families of victims of road accidents?
Mr Varadkar, who himself lost a family member in a traffic accident, obviously decided to follow his gut instinct and praise the Garda whistleblowers for distinguished service in pointing out a real threat to road safety, the wrongful quashing of penalty points. Mr Varadkar’s instincts were good. So, usually, are Mr Kenny’s. It’s time he trusted his own judgement and rid himself of a minister who puts his ego before the needs of good government. Mr Kenny is first and foremost our prime minister, not Alan’s Pal.
Anyway, as they say in Borgen: “There can be no friends at the palace.”
* Olivia O’Leary’s column first aired on RTÉ’s Drivetime. It is reproduced with RTÉ’s permission.