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I AM one of those notorious twitterers who are so despised by those who would like to control the flow of information and opinion on this island. On Sunday when the PJ Sheehan story broke I was surprised how little attention it was getting in the mainstream media.
On Twitter, however, it quickly became the single most talked about issue after the All-Ireland final. Most of those who posted, including myself, realised this was a far more serious issue than the Taoiseach’s Morning Ireland interview or the Minister for Science’s dalliance with evolution denial.
This involved a politician threatening the future career of a garda and in so doing making a mockery of the separation of powers, a fundamental principle of our democracy.
There have rightly been calls for Sheehan’s resignation, but regardless of how this story ends the damage is done.
We are told that an elected politician attempted to drive onto the streets of Dublin while so intoxicated that a garda sergeant later had to assist him to stand up; that he verbally abused and threatened a junior garda who was doing her job and who, for all we know, saved him from killing himself, his wife and/or an innocent pedestrian or fellow motorist.
Confidence in politics and politicians is at an all time low, not least because of the perception that some politicians act as if they are above the law and above standards of morality that the rest of us are expected to adhere to.
By his actions PJ Sheehan did huge damage to both politics and the law. Equally worrying is that his party leader, Enda Kenny, when informed by the gardaí, told them to “ignore what Mr Sheehan had said”.
Is this an adequate response to such a serious incident from a man who aspires to lead a future government? For the record I normally vote Fine Gael at general elections so my comments are in no way partisan and are in fact tinged with regret and disappointment.
Some have pleaded in mitigation that PJ Sheehan, at 77, is an elderly man and close to retirement. Surely if he is fit for the gruelling schedule of politics he is accountable for his own actions.
His age is no excuse for his behaviour and would have attracted little sympathy if he had been allowed to drive that night and subsequently killed or maimed a fellow-citizen.
If you or I got into a car with the intention of driving while over the limit and then abused and threatened a garda who tried to prevent us proceeding we would justifiably face serious charges. In Irish politics it seems the rules are different.
Politicians’ actions, it seems, do not have consequences unless of course they are unlucky enough to be caught, and even then the consequences bear no relation to the original transgression.
This issue is bigger than PJ Sheehan or Fine Gael, or even Dáil Éireann. This is about another serious blow to the once noble profession of politics and a threat to the impartial exercise of the law. It comes at a time when the people are being asked by politicians to bear the most savage financial cuts in living memory.
Sadly, despite the terrible injustice of it all, there seems to be no alternative to these cuts. Only strong leadership can get us through such a difficult time, but we cannot have strong leadership without high standards in high places.
Public office brings both privilege and responsibility. For too long the former has been stressed at the expense of the latter. Anything less than PJ Sheehan’s resignation or dismissal from the Dáil will further undermine the stability of our democracy and thus put in serious jeopardy our financial recovery.
This is so much more serious than a hangover.
Rev Canon Stephen Neill
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