Standards in politics - Healy Eames’ record is not acceptable

As late as yesterday Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore used the usual catch-all to repel a Sinn Féin attack.

Defending Health Minister James Reilly from accusations of corruption from Mary Lou McDonald he, right on cue, offered: “You have a neck, Sinn Féin ... you know, so much illegal activity. How many bodies are buried on this island because of Sinn Féin?” He, like many of his colleagues, followed the lead of Taoiseach Enda Kenny who, a week earlier, when asked a reasonable budget question by Gerry Adams, responded by asking about the IRA murder of Jean McConville four decades ago.

Another version of this muddy-the-waters two-step is to talk about the terrible economic situation they inherited, how appalling the public finances were after a decade of Fianna Fáil mismanagement. That indignant set piece usually closes with a few muted but earnest we’ll-do-our-best sentences about the obligations forced upon them — and us — by deals agreed by Brian Cowen’s government with international financiers.

In either instance it won’t be too long before the word “standards” is used, the subtext being that this Government operates to a different set of standards than any of its immediate predecessors. It is still possible — just — to hope that it might but that wishful thinking is challenged by evidence that hints otherwise. Though nothing as dodgy as some of the extremes of the past has emerged — yet — there are indications that the Coalition can be every bit as venal as their predecessors.

Fine Gael senator Fidelma Healy Eames has led a small vanguard doing so much to make those comparisons more inevitable than anyone who voted for profound change in 2011 would wish. Earlier this week she was fined €1,850 for not taxing her Mercedes. She and her husband had been previously taken to court by a builder and the judge ruled that the couple must pay him €12,000. Ms Healy Eames was also embroiled in a controversy when she and her husband took a holiday in Kenya after they were flown to Africa by a state-funded agency. Ms Healy Eames was a guest of Voluntary Service Overseas and reimbursed them for “private” expenses after details of the trip came to light.

She was involved too in a planning row over a development at her Oranmore home which had not been sanctioned by planning authorities. Last summer she was fined €100 for not having a valid ticket while travelling on the Galway to Dublin train.

A primary school teacher who failed to win a seat in Galway West in three general elections — 2002, 2007, and 2011 — she has been far too often in the public eye for the wrong reasons. Her litany of misdemeanours makes her unsuitable for public office or any role in our legislature. The Fine Gael silence on her misbehaviour, and there is a pattern to it, is regrettable and will undoubtedly cost the party dearly in due course.

Fine Gael can talk all it likes about low standards in high places but until it gets its own house in order that’s just palaver. Standards, after all, are no more than consistently good decision making and Ms Healy Eames has failed to observe them as she or any public representative should. The very least the Taoiseach should do is ask her to resign from her Seanad seat.


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