A Tánaiste resigns - Pavlovian hatreds too easy to rile

Apart from averting an election for a while, it is hard to see any up side in the decision by Frances Fitzgerald to resign over the McCabe affair — an entirely avoidable, grubby
scandal that has achieved serial-killer status in political life.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has, so early in his premiership, been weakened because he over-played his hand; Micheál Martin must rein in his fundamentalist colleagues who,

almost irrespective of consequences, wanted an election. That consequence points to the only winners: Sinn Féin.

As they prepare for a leadership coronation probably without the inconvenience of an election they will be reassured by how easy it is to reignite the Pavlovian hatreds standing between this Republic and the prospect of becoming a modern society where rational thought and co-operation occasionally trump legacy.

Over recent days, it is as if the unrepentant, still belligerent ghosts of Martin Corry and Oliver J Flanagan stalked Leinster House drumming up a frenzy of distrust.

For anyone outside the political bubble, this is the most disheartening aspect. It suggests our democracy remains hostage to an anachronistic culture of them-or-us-at-any-price.

Those cultural inadequacies and insecurities are just one element of the affair. There will be one of those infamous root-and-branch reviews into how a spat became a crisis and there can hardly be a better starting point for that stone-turning than the opening remarks of Mr Justice Peter Charleton at the Disclosures Tribunal when he said he had but one task — to establish the truth.

“This tribunal is a drain on resources... Every action of obfuscation, of diversion of focus and non-co-operation, is unwelcome for that reason.” In one word — obfuscation — he cuts to the core of the matter.

Ms Fitzgerald’s rearguard action was peppered with obfuscation. She repeatedly said it would have been inappropriate for her to interfere in the tribunal. Nobody expected her to do that but as minister for justice at that time, she was duty-bound to assert authority over the gardaí, who by “aggressively” challenging McCabe were playing the man and not the ball.

Her inaction showed a bias that backed a rancid culture but betrayed a brave citizen. The legal harassment — it hardly deserves to be called a strategy — driven by the former commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan was another expression of the hubris shown by her predecessor Martin Callinan when he described Garda whistleblowers’ actions as “disgusting”.

The drip-drip of wrecking-ball emails from the Department of Justice were obfuscation too — or simply another example of the gross ineptitude described in the Toland Report. There are no alternative ways of describing the process.

Could the relevant emails not have been found in a five-minute search — just as they are in every accountable business?

Recent decisions on the Rugby World Cup, on EU medical and banking institutions and others, were hard to swallow but they showed how we are judged by our neighbours.

This scandal showed us to ourselves in the very worst light and raises again the age-old question: why is dishonesty such a toxic influence in our lives and society?

Answers on a fixed charge penalty notice please.


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