Scandal thrives when probity is cast aside

EVERY scandal that damaged the trust in one public organisation after another; every exposé of snouts-in-the-trough sleaziness or the sexual abuse of children that has broken the relationship between one institution after another and the citizens of this Republic has a common theme. 

That theme is a constant in public discourse but it is far more active in the imagination than in day-to-day life.

It is an issue we must confront quickly if we are ever to move beyond the institutionalised slapdash and the vaguely corrupt.

It is one we will have to embrace if we are to rebuild the trust essential institutions once enjoyed.

Unless we do so we face the kind of political upheaval once thought laughable but unfolding across Europe and, spectacularly, in America.

This challenge faces every entity from our parliament to the Catholic Church, every institution from our discredited banks to the scandal of the HSE waiting lists — despite the gallant, exhausting efforts of most of its staff.

This morning An Garda Síochána, Commissioner Nóirín O’Sulivan and some senior officers, our justice system, Tusla and a long list of politicians are mired in an escalating scandal that might not have grown legs if we did things differently, if we had a more demanding culture around public and private probity.

The issue once again pushed to the very forefront by the incendiary McCabe affair, is accountability, or more precisely, the absence of accountability stretching across all society.

That absence stretches from the unacceptable situation where a man with nearly 500 previous convictions was recently sent to jail for 18 months after he pleaded guilty to careless driving — while drunk — causing the death of a teenager; it stretches to the banking collapse nearly a decade ago and the fact that not one senior banker has faced meaningful sanction; it stretches to the fact that the Catholic church has not met its obligations to the victims of clerical sexual abuse; it stretches to the fact that those convicted of pollution face derisory sanctions.

The list of illusory supervision, of illusory sanction, is almost endless because we are enthusiastic about making laws but far less so about enforcing them.

Minister Shane Ross’ baby-with-the-bathwater proposals on drink driving are the latest example of that foolishness.

The McCabe scandal is so complex and the issues it raises are so very explosive that every statement on it, every opinion offered on it, must be framed with Texan-scale wriggle room.

Everyone involved, though this is almost impossible, must be considered innocent until proven otherwise.

Nevertheless, the allegations are so disturbing, the circumstances so fantastic that Mr Justice Charleton can hardly complete his inquiry quickly enough.

What that inquiry will make of the implausible “cut-and-paste” explanation and the timescales involved in acknowledging that “clerical error” will be pivotal, especially as they fuel the kind of narrative so beloved by conspiracy theorists.

Some years ago we were fobbed off with the distraction that anger is not a policy, Indeed it is not but in this scandal and in others where accountability is as elusive as a unicorn that can knit it seems an obligation.


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