Yet another scandal too good to waste

As is often the case, Oscar Wilde offers a phrase that, if not perfect, is neatly applicable. His line, “to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness” is relevant.

Yet another scandal too good to waste

As is often the case, Oscar Wilde offers a phrase that, if not perfect, is neatly applicable. His line, “to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness” is relevant.

It combines surprise — faux or otherwise — with a beautifully understated air of resigned criticism.

This morning, almost a century after we won independence, An Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive face their huge and ever-growing obligations without chiefs executive.

No matter how these simple facts are dressed, they represent chastening, canary-in-the-mine alarm calls that must be resolved before we can say we’ve made even moderately good use of our independence.

Those vacancies are screaming-from-the-rooftops symptoms of ongoing dysfunction. They show that the relationships between State institutions and our parliament are not working.

There are many reasons for this, but one must be the transient nature of Government and the stonewalling culture, tolerated for far too long, of public employees waiting until a demanding minister is moved to a new brief.

Resistance to change has brought the most fundamental, unanticipated, and probably destructive change. It really is that fundamental.

The HSE’s Tony O’Brien announced his resignation on Thursday night, after a confrontational sitting of the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee.

Public representatives at that meeting were deeply unhappy with the HSE’s commitment to public accountability. Mr O’Brien was, as he revealed yesterday, equally unhappy. Both may be right; the committee members certainly are.

Eight months ago, Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan retired because, she said, the “unending cycle” of investigations meant she could not bring about the “deep cultural and structural” reforms required. Just as with Mr O’Brien, the novel idea, in this omerta Republic anyway, of public accountability as a regular lubricant of democratic oversight into insular, circle-the-wagons cultures, was decisive.

The parallels, sadly, do not end there. Mr O’Brien’sdescription of committee member Marc MacSharry’s forceful questioning as “causing hysteria” may not have been as alarming a sign of corporate hubris as former garda commissioner Martin Callinan’s “disgusting” remark to the same PAC four years ago but it is, nevertheless, straight out of the Marie Antoinette Handbook of Dismissals and Contempt. Even if made in strained circumstances, it was inappropriate in an episode where women’s lives are needlessly in jeopardy.

The cervical cancer scandal is far from over. It will provoke many justified demands.

It may be the moment the worm finally turns, or it may turn out to be just another of the myriad scandals in health or policing that have undermined faith in official Ireland. It has already shown the effectiveness of the Oireachtas committee system but, in an ideal world, it would do much, much more.

It could be the moment we finally accept that instinctive institutional secrecy and our discomfort in the demanding glare of accountability does far more harm than good.

To borrow a phrase from another moment of great darkness, this is too good a scandal to waste.

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