Abuse of power - Will politics ever change for better?

BY any standard, the alleged behaviour of Cork South West Deputy PJ Sheehan, who reportedly threatened to damage the career of a garda who prevented him driving his car from the Dáil because he was “extremely intoxicated”, is unacceptable of an elected representative.

The acolytes of a lingering nod-and-wink culture in politics may be tempted to portray the Fine Gael deputy as merely “losing the run of himself” in the early hours of the morning of July 8, the night TDs broke up for their long summer holidays. But considering that Mr Sheehan was so intoxicated he was unable to stand properly that’s a gross understatement.

The affair smacks of an era when politicians believed they could influence the career of any garda who had the temerity to bring them to book. Apocryphal stories tell of gardaí being banished to remote posts off the west coast for daring to challenge certain politicians.

Allegedly, in this instance, the 77-year-old TD told the garda she would never be promoted. And according to the official Garda report on the case, he went on to utter the ominous threat that “when we get into power you will get nothing”.

To make matters worse, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who was leaving Leinster House at around 1am, reportedly told the sergeant in charge to “ignore what Mr Sheehan has said”.

Ironically, in a recent Dáil debate on alcohol consumption, Mr Sheehan spoke out against the proposal to lower the legal alcohol limit from 80mg to 50mg. He praised the public transport options for Dublin drinkers, cited the dangers of driving in the dark and pointed out that young people process alcohol more slowly.

Striking a note that in retrospect has the ring of hypocrisy, he called for gardaí to be supported in their efforts to enforce the law. He also claimed the problem of driving under the influence was overplayed and that people driving short distances should be allowed to drink more. In yet another astonishing comment, he argued it was more dangerous to walk home drunk than drive home while inebriated.

Since July, the silence within Fine Gael about Deputy Sheehan’s reported conduct has been deafening. That is in stark contrast with Deputy Simon Coveney’s instant Twitter reference to Brian Cowen’s infamous interview.

The Goleen-based deputy finds himself in a controversy of his own making. His approach to the garda in question can only be described as an abuse of power. It has also exposed double standards within the main opposition party.

With Fine Gael likely to hold power after the next general election, it brings to mind the political axiom that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Whether this incident has led to disciplinary action against the West Cork deputy is not clear. Given the serious nature of this incident, the case for such action is compelling. If the Fine Gael leader has been sitting on his hands he has serious questions to answer.


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