Another bruising lesson for Kenny

IRELAND is a small country with a small population.

Sometimes these realities overlap in a way that can lead to suspicions, well-founded or otherwise.

Occasionally, appointments are made to public or Government bodies that do not seem to represent the highest ambition or standards in civic life, the standards every political party insists it cherishes — in theory if not in practice.

Judgements about appointments, more often low-reward impositions rather than lucrative stipends, are also subjective.

Selections are another consequence of living in a country where the number of people expert in any given area is finite.

That short list gets even shorter if personal availability or enthusiasm, conflicts of interest, and the inevitable political grading are taken into question.

Our democracy may be maturing, or at least we are told it is, but it still seems unlikely that one or other party would easily appoint someone from the other tribe to one of the Praetorian Guard positions in its gift.

There are exceptions but they are as scarce as members of the judiciary who might be aligned to Sinn Féin or People Before Profit.

There is nothing wrong with this. Partronage intended to advance a public cause is an entirely legitimate process.

Why else would someone want to achieve office other than to have a decisive influence in how our affairs are ordered?

Why would someone elected to a position of power to champion a certain philosophy appoint someone who opposes that view to a position of influence?

That is the positive side of the argument, but for many decades the less attractive, darker side of the practice was all too plain to see.

Once upon a time, in the twilight hours before an election, we were swamped with appointments to board after board and the only qualifications that seemed necessary were a membership card for the right party and a regular pulse.

This was not meritocracy.

It was the Caligula style of patronage.

Caligula not only kept his favourite horse Incitatus dressed in purple in a penthouse stable but named it a member of Rome’s senate.

In recent days our “new way of doing politics” had a head-on collision with the Caligula way of doing things.

Enda Kenny wanted to appoint his predecessor John Bruton as vice-president of the European Investment Bank.

Former Department of Finance secretary general John Moran’s name was also linked to the post.

Mr Kenny also wanted this €270,000-a-year appointment confirmed without the inconvenience of a formal vetting process.

His plans ran into difficulty when he gave Alliance Transport Minister Shane Ross an indication, albeit an incomplete one, of his intention.

Mr Ross, to his credit, opposed this good ’ole boys back-scratching and the position was advertised in recent days.

This is not the first time Mr Kenny has tripped himself up in this way — anyone remember John McNulty?

Neither is it the first time he has shown indifference to the standards expected in an accountable democracy.

This unacceptable behaviour underlines the disconnect and hubris that cost Mr Kenny’s party so dearly at the last election.

Wouldn’t you think they’d eventually learn?


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