TAOISEACH Enda Kenny long ago recognised that “Paddy likes to know what’s going on” so it’s fair to assume that Mr Kenny accepts that Paddy would like to know what might happen in predictable enough circumstances.
Paddy’s entitlement to know what might happen in a high-stakes stand-off is strengthened if it is a consequence of how Paddy voted. It is not unreasonable, indeed it is the least Paddy might expect, to know if voting one way or another will support or offend dearly held principles.
Over Fine Gael’s ard fheis weekend Mr Kenny was asked at least 11 times if he would rule out seeking the support of former Fine Gael minster-forced-to-turn-independent Michael Lowry if his vote was needed to form a government. Each time he evaded the question. Each evasion made the question more relevant and revealing. Each evasion was also a public challenge to those in his party who so regularly trumpet their deep commitment to “cleaning up politics”. How they respond to Mr Kenny’s sidestepping will be very revealing too. At least three Fine Gael backbenchers say the party should have nothing to do with Mr Lowry or his Dáil vote. Mr Kenny cannot ignore this intervention and must, before election day, clarify his position.
Indeed, it is possible to argue that by ruling Mr Lowry out as a collaborator Mr Kenny might go some way to undermining his re-election campaign, although the 14,000 Tipperary people who, despite everything, gave him their first preference in 2011 might do so again in a tragically Irish expression of self-defeating and irrational defiance and fail once again to see the wood from the trees.
The former Fine Gael communications minister was severely criticised by the Moriarty tribunal, which, in 2011, found that he had conferred a benefit on our homegrown plutocrat Denis O’Brien and that the businessman had made or facilitated payments to Mr Lowry. Both men have rejected the tribunal’s findings. After the report’s publication, Mr Kenny accepted that the tribunal “found seriously against Deputy Michael Lowry” yet he refuses to exile him outside the cordon sanitaire that should be natural and unquestioned in any administration that values integrity.
Mr Lowry’s condemnation by Moriarty is not the only issue in play. The Tipperary TD is facing four criminal charges for alleged tax offences and if he is convicted on any one, and sentenced to more than six months in jail, he will not be able to serve as a TD — an outcome that would obviate all sorts of difficult decisions for Mr Kenny.
One of the characteristics of this election campaign, one that will be dropped as soon as it becomes a barrier to power, is the assertion by all political parties that there are parties they would not do business with under any circumstances. Some parties, especially Fianna Fáil, have unnecessarily painted themselves into a very tight corner on this issue, but if Fine Gael, after all its sanctimony and bluster about probity, turn to Mr Lowry for support it would be an affront too far to anyone who still hopes that integrity can be a defining characteristic in our political life.
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