Even the most vivid champions of this still-evolving Republic, even those Teflon-cloaked bankers who so disastrously “wore the green jersey” to try to pull the wool over investors’ eyes — your pension providers possibly — cannot but feel a sense of embarrassment, a sense of betrayal, that at least 42 schools must be reassessed, years after they were built, to establish whether they are safe places for our children.
The parents of those children, many now seeking refuge in other schools, must feel a sense of outrage that their children may have been put in jeopardy because the building of these schools was not properly supervised by the state.
Wearing their taxpayers’ hat they, and many others too, are entitled to feel a real anger that scarce resources were committed to projects that did not have anything like old-fashioned, clerk-of-works oversight. One of the simple lessons from this scandal is that every State-funded project must now have a full-time clerk-of-works figure to ensure compliance with basic standards. This back-to-the-future change is particularly relevant as we try to resolve the housing crisis. The inevitable but hollow developers’ squeals about the reimposition of consumer-protecting red tape must be dismissed.
The schools’ scandal is this week’s headline story in our ongoing indifference to accountability but a Dublin court ruling yesterday underlined in the saddest, most tragic way what can happen when a society reneges on its basic responsibilities to its weakest, most troubled citizens.
Eoin Berkeley, a 25-year-old man who abducted a teenage Spanish student from Dublin city centre and raped her repeatedly over a 21-hour period in July last year, was jailed for 14 years. It is not to defend his savagery in any way to say that he had led a disturbed and difficult life before the attack. Neither does it diminish the great hurt and trauma inflicted on his innocent victim to say that this was a tragedy waiting to happen. Just as the victim and everyone else in his orbit should have been protected from an unstable, dangerous rapist, Berkeley should have been protected from himself.
Two lives have been ruined — and two families left heartbroken — because those in a position to intervene, those who had been alerted to the threat Berkeley posed to others and to himself, fell short of what was required.
Imagine the frustration the Garda inspector who, a month before the rape, ordered Berkeley’s detention under the Mental Health Act. Berkeley was then seen by a doctor who deemed him fit to be released. What consequences might that doctor face? Imagine the frustration of Berkeley’s brother, who, two days later, contacted a Garda station and said Berkeley needed to be detained. Gardaí, on foot of the earlier medical ruling, had no option but to refuse.
Imagine the frustration, if that is an adequate description of what will probably be a lifelong ordeal, of his victim and her family with the failure of official Ireland’s system of safety nets.
These scandals, and more like them, make our reluctance to embrace proactive accountability incomprehensible. And, like it or not, this frustration found a shrill voice in Peter Casey and goes some way to explain his 25% vote.