Bankrolling politics - Influence not funding is the issue

A GREAT majority of the conversations about politics in Ireland have grown stale.

They have had a similar, predictable choreography for far too long. Most open up with a sigh of resignation, wondering how much worse things might get before they might get better.

The next stage usually involves scathing criticism of the incumbents. They are accused of being at best arrogant, worn out and out of touch; they are accused of beggaring the country, of putting the interests of big business before ordinary people’s and of doing little or nothing to create the jobs hundreds of thousands of people crave.

Some of these accusations are true but more are just an expression of angry frustration. But there is more than enough truth in them to support considerable criticism no matter what accusations — more like red herrings really — Taoiseach Brian Cowen might make about negative commentary.

At that point, in our political conversation, the ‘ah-shure-what’s-the-alternative?’ crossroads is reached. Then there’s usually silence and even more sighing. Feet are shuffled and embarrassed people look at the ground. Maybe they stare over your shoulder into the distance like John Wayne scanning the Monument Valley horizon for the cloud of dust that will tell him that Cochise’s war party is not too far away.

If you could see far enough north yesterday, all the way to Glenties in Donegal, you might have seen a cloud warning of confrontations to come, warning that some divisions cannot be papered over no matter how determined the divided are to seem united.

Fine Gael backbencher Lucinda Creighton, one of Richard Bruton’s most active lieutenants in his amateurish putsch, made an impassioned speech at the Patrick MacGill Summer School.

Her theme was that Fine Gael cannot accuse Fianna Fáil of having low standards if they too welcome big business to fundraising events. Her central point is true but her criticism of her party cannot be seen as anything other than an attack on Enda Kenny.

“We cannot be satisfied with low standards in high places. Fine Gael in government must be much, much more than simply ‘Fianna Fáil Light’,” she declared.

“There can be no room in Fine Gael for cute-hoor politics. These are the politics which have defined and tainted Irish public life like an incurable cancer,” she continued.

It is easy to agree but she raises issues that have bedevilled nearly every democracy in the world. Powerful people have influence and they are not shy about using it. And, if we are to be honest rather than aspirational, it is nearly impossible to hermetically seal the political process from big business.

It is not wrong that big business might fund politicians. What is wrong is the expectation that privilege is being bought and if some politicians do not have the strength of character needed to say “no” to some of those who fund them then we have elected the wrong people.

And, if Ms Creighton thinks this issue might be a game-changer for Fine Gael, when so many other issues are at crisis point, then it is easy to see why Enda Kenny is still party leader.


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