Integrity in politics - Callely’s position is untenable

THERE will be a general election within two years but it would not be surprising if one was called earlier.

Hopefully people of energy, integrity, purpose and vision will step forward and offer themselves for career in a profession that is too often merciless, frustrating and leaves little enough room for a full private life.

Hopefully every party will be able to offer individuals who are motivated by the great idea of public service and active, constructive patriotism. In the best instances those qualities will be informed by considerable self-awareness.

This is a challenge at any time but at a moment when the respect afforded politicians is at such a very low ebb candidates will need a resilience and determination that very many of their predecessors did not have or need.

We all know that there are very many fine individuals who have a lot to contribute but are reluctant to become involved in a system that is seen as self-serving and almost inhumanely cynical. We all know why this dangerous point has been reached and who got us here. Nevertheless, it is important to restore belief and a sense of purpose and possibility in our political system.

Right now it’s hard to be positive much less idealistic but then that is at the heart of the challenge to sustain and enrich an equitable democracy.

That is why the Senator Ivor Callely fiasco is so very corrosive, so destructive and almost seditious. Right from the moment he made his contemptuous, incoherent 160-second statement to the Senate in June he has shown that he has no understanding of what is right or what is wrong.

His response to the Seanad committee, a cross-party group of his peers who found he misrepresented his normal place of residence to claim extra travel expenses, is as delusional as it is offensive. He immediately and “strenuously” rejected the committee’s report saying he “would like to have the matter reviewed fairly in a non-partisan way”. The implication in this is even more contemptuous than his June statement and suggests that he believes the committee stitched him up. He also infers that it was unfair and partisan.

The Committee cut to the core of the matter — which really has little enough to do with the €80,000 involved — when it said his behaviour was “inconsistent with the maintenance of confidence ... by the public and was of significant public importance”.

Mr Callely owes his Senate seat to a Bertie Ahern nomination so his presence in the Oireachtas represents political patronage not a democratic mandate.

If he responded to queries from a bank manager, gardaí or the taxman in the way he responded to the committee he would have been dismissed as being obstructive, delusional or at the very least disingenuous. He might even find himself in a situation far more difficult than he does — a 20-day suspension from the Senate — which is no more than symbolic.

It is not yet clear whether Mr Callely can be removed or impeached but his continued presence in politics acts as a very powerful deterrent to anyone who might be contemplating becoming involved in the democratic process. We simply cannot afford that.


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