The Galway tent - Let us hope this is a signal not a gesture

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen’s decision that Fianna Fáil should no longer use the fabled Galway Races’ tent as a venue for champagne fundraising events ticks all the right boxes.

Though it has as much to do with optics and practicality as anything else, it may set a new tone and the decision is to be heartily welcomed. However, its importance should not be overestimated.

It may also, in public at least, change the Praetorian Guard so close to the centre of Fianna Fáil power and so closely associated with the building sector and the country’s powerful developers.

The ostentatious queues of supplicant builders and developers did nothing to enhance Fianna Fáil’s credibility or independence; nor did it do anything to promote the notion of a level playing field in Irish business.

The arrival of the helicoptered and hopeful at the tent renewed suspicions each and every summer that there are varying degrees of access and influence available. There was always too much of an appearance of regional warlords paying homage to a visiting maharaja, a maharaja who deigned to leave his faraway capital to visit the edge of his empire to accept tribute and treasure.

No matter how innocent or unquestionable the event was there was always a whiff of the access for sale about the Ballybrit knees up. With each and every passing year, and with each and every tribunal report, and with each and every passing planning court case, these suspicions became more and more entrenched.

In these straitened times it is unlikely that the event made a significant contribution to the bottom line either. The very sector most associated with the soiree is the one most affected by the current slowdown.

However, Fianna Fáil cannot be blamed for those who would support them or seek their co-operation. As virtually our permanent government, and as would happen in every other society, they are the inevitable target for the ambitious. We cannot blame Fianna Fáil because someone would seek their co-operation on a development or building project.

What we can be critical of, however, is how that party responds to those advances, appropriate or otherwise.

If this is really a step towards establishing a culture of independence and real transparency it is doubly welcome but it is hard to think that those who were happy to avail of the Ballybrit opportunities will not find another way to do so.


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