Episodes demand full explanations

ANY objective assessment of two stories of recent days would, unfortunately, conclude that two members of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s cabinet may have abused their position in revealing ways.

The first concerns Foreign Minister Simon Coveney who, on June 17, 2015, when minister for defence, personally contacted an Air Corps pilot who refused to fly him to Cork because fog was forecast at Cork Airport.

Mr Coveney has described his intervention as part of his “hands-on” approach and that the call should not be regarded as “intimidatory” even though Mr Coveney, in that one-on-one call, questioned the pilot’s judgement. 

Subsequent correspondence between the Department of Defence and senior Air Corps officers describes how “very unhappy” the Air Corps was with Mr Coveney’s intervention.

It is understandable that Mr Coveney has shown reticence around discussing the episode — first revealed by The Irish Times — but his assertion that a direct call to an Air Corps officer from the minister for defence questioning the officer’s judgement as not being “intimidatory” is at best disingenuous, at worst deliberately diversionary. 

What else was it meant to be? Congratulatory? It was, in any man’s language, an unwise intervention but hardly career defining. It does though taint the perception of Mr Coveney in a way he may, in a private moment, regret.

The story regarding Minister for Employment Regina Doherty seems of a different order.

While Mr Coveney is clear in his rights to communicate with an officer of the state in a “hands-on manner”, in Ms Doherty’s case officers of the state tried to silence a person who, through social media, commented on the collapse, eight years ago, of a business run by Ms Doherty and her husband.

That the person, New York-based Catherine Kelly, was detained by gardaí at Dublin Airport as she was travelling to America raises a number of questions. How did gardaí know of her whereabouts?

Have gardaí made button-the-lip interventions like this before? Does this reflect standard procedure? 

Did they, by trying to silence Ms Kelly, who had not been charged much less convicted, over-step the mark and act as judge and jury?

That the gardaí warned Ms Kelly, according to Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger in the Dáil, not to tweet about Ms Doherty or publish any material relevant to her again adds a Big Brother frisson to the episode.

Ms Doherty had made a criminal complaint of harassment over online comments made by Ms Kelly, whose partner Jim Cullen is head of Friends of Sinn Féin in New York, to gardaí but it seems at least unusual that, according to Deputy Coppinger’s account to the Dáíl, that “she was told to sign a statement... or she wouldn’t be allowed to proceed to the gate”.

Maybe in Turkey, but in Ireland?

Neither of these events represents a threat to our way of life but they do underline a hubris, a sense of entitlement, a sense that normal rules or procedures do not apply that cannot go unchallenged. 

The nothing-to-see-here defence will not suffice, full explanations are essential.


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