Spectre of Watergate looms on the horizon

The Watergate break-in, the nasty cross-the-line bugging crimes that toppled an American president, took place in May and June 1972.

Richard Nixon, the 37th president of the US who for so long protested his innocence with vigour and indignation, resigned on August 9, 1974, rather than face impeachment.

These things take time to play out and the two years and some months between discovery and impeachment polarised America. Towards the end of a particularly shabby and dishonest rearguard action by the Nixon administration and the Republican party, even Nixon’s most ardent supporters conceded that Tricky Dicky was well named and unfit for office, especially the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Those ensnared in the GSOC crisis would certainly reject the idea of comparing their temporary little difficulty with the seismic, decade-defining Watergate scandal with the same high dudgeon and bluster that sustained Richard Nixon for maybe the first 12 months of his dénouement. Their party colleagues would bristle at the link, suggesting it hysterical and malicious. Ministers would stonewall, wagons would be circled, and the spin doctors would be in overdrive — as some already are. Those politicians with the sharpest survival instincts would keep their doubts to themselves but would certainly consider the risk/reward ratio of offering unquestioning support to a colleague with so many questions to answer.

But despite all that inevitable indignation, no-one knows if the comparison is valid or not because nearly every day brings new allegations. Each time a new stone is turned over, even more awkward secrets are discovered.

Each day also exposes new levels of hubris, disdain for the idea of accountability. This was epitomised by Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday when he declared he had full confidence in Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and said he saw no reason why Mr Shatter should “set the record straight”. This statement seems bizarre on at least two levels — Mr Shatter has more questions to answer than an exam student, and it is precisely this wave-of-the-hand dismissal that has sustained the focus on the GSOC allegations. Just as bizarrely, Mr Kenny added that he had no plans to discuss the controversy into mishandling of investigations by gardaí with Mr Shatter. This suggests a blinkered mind unwilling to deal with the realities of the tinderbox story evolving around him. Thankfully, at least two members of the cabinet — Eamon Gilmore and Pat Rabbitte — have acknowledged that the accusations of garda investigation failures must be investigated.

Watergate festered in American life for nearly two years, but it had a cancerous affect on public affairs for much longer. Its legacy — an increasingly empty middle ground surrounded by extremists — is apparent today. We cannot afford that, so the truth around GSOC and suspect garda investigations must out and Government must establish and enthusiastically support whatever measures or agencies that requires.

We may not have discovered anyone like Bernard Barker, Virgilio R. Gonzales, James W. McCord, Eugenio R. Martinez, or Frank A. Sturgis in our midst, but it gets increasingly difficult to dismiss the idea that their successors have not been in some way active in our public affairs.

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