SHAUN CONNOLLY: Sadly, few in the Dáil are as clean as a whistleblower

HAS the whistle been blown on Dáil hypocrisy? Within hours of publishing new laws to protect those who shine light into the dark corners of society, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was ordering a garda inquiry to hunt down those responsible for the ‘Anglo tapes’ exploding onto the public consciousness.

Strange that we have not seen such speed in pursuit of the people responsible for the banking catastrophe, or in setting up a judge-led inquiry into the origins of the financial collapse and the disaster of the Anglo guarantee.

Opposition TDs backing the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill also expressed unease at the very public hand-wringing displayed by some Fine Gael deputies, who seemed to have no such battle with their consciences when cutting funding for vulnerable or disabled children.

Independent Waterford TD, John Halligan, brought the situation into sharp focus with a timely Dáil intervention, highlighting intense pressure on front-line social services caused by a lack of resources that leaves children in real danger.

Mr Halligan cited a report, out this week, examining the period between 2005-2010. The report laid bare an appalling catalogue of State incompetence, indifference, and failure in dealing with children who had no-one else to turn to for protection.

And that was when the country had money — before €30bn was flushed down the Anglo toilet — so what must the situation be like now?

The Ombudsman for Children’s report cited one case where it took four months to organise a home visit to a 16-year-old girl, despite concerns she was being subjected to “savage sexual abuse”.

In Roscommon, chronic under-staffing of psychological services left 180 children waiting up to two years to be seen, and, elsewhere, vulnerable youngsters were left without an allocated social worker, despite the urgency being flagged-up by 30 different agencies.

With more than 80 cases of suspected child abuse or neglect being reported every day to social services, does anyone think the situation now is any better?

Reports such as ‘Ryan’ and the Ombudsman’s are lightening-strike moments: for an instant, darkness is flooded with illumination and all is revealed, provoking a national shudder of disgust and cries of “something must be done”.

But the moment passes, the concern shifts, and the document is left to gather dust in some forgotten government office.

Fine Gael and Labour railed at Fianna Fáil in power for failing to introduce the decade-old Children’s First guidelines for protecting the vulnerable — yet more than two years into term, this coalition has also not put them on a statutory basis.

While there has been some increase in social-worker numbers under this Government, it has fallen far short of what is required on the ground, and HSE cutbacks take with one hand the measly resources given with the other.

The reality is, as Mr Halligan said, that in some areas of the country, after 4pm on a Friday, there is still no social worker available until 9am the following Monday.

Gardaí are forced to take vulnerable children from their homes and act as their social worker for a few hours, until they get them to an inappropriate adult-psychiatric unit, or until they can be seen on a Monday morning.

Imagine what a fraction of that €30bn, blown away on Anglo, could have done for the most vulnerable children in our society?

But, it seems, instead of going after those responsible, the Government is turning its energies against those who leaked the ‘Anglo tapes’, or, to use Mr Noonan’s odd phrase, those “mucking around”.

While concern is being expressed in some legal circles that the publicity could delay trials for the likes of former Anglo chairman, Sean Fitzpatrick, that must be weighed against the public-interest values of the tapes and how they have galvanised the Government into some sort of action.

But ‘public interest’ seems to be a very flexible commodity when it comes to Anglo.

Despite being a ‘public interest’ director at IBRC — the renamed Anglo — former Fine Gael leader, Alan Dukes, sang “dumb”, as Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald put it.

The very day the whistleblower bill was unveiled, Taoiseach Enda Kenny made it clear, in the Dáil, he considered the world’s most famous light shiner, Edward Snowden, to be beneath contempt and certainly not the type of person we should have landing at Shannon Airport — unlike all those unchecked US air-force planes that trundle unhindered through the place like it is the 51st state.

And the Dáil gave scant attention to the 100,000 women who have been forced to travel abroad for terminations since the X-Case Supreme Court ruling, while it focused its eyes on the four Fine Gael TDs who voted against the legislation that finally resulted from that landmark ruling of two decades ago.

When this column pressed Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore on whether he wanted rape victims to have the right to a termination in this country, rather than be forced through the added anguish of having to go abroad, he avoided the question.

Clearly, he would, along with Labour colleagues, support such a reform, but feels he cannot so say at present, for fear of alarming his Coalition colleagues.

Some of those Fine Gaelers speaking against the highly restrictive X-Case legislation, because they believe it to be too radical, cited the Special Olympics to back their arguments.

Independent TD, Finian McGrath, who has a Down’s Syndrome child, and backs the bill, noted dryly he had not seen many Fine Gael TDs demonstrating with him outside the Dáil against the brutal cuts on disability allowances.

So, yet again, the Oireachtas exists in its own bubble of unreality, saying one thing and doing another.

It is little wonder that when it comes to public respect, the Dáil can whistle for it.


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