QUESTIONS FOR DEBATE: THE POLITICS OF INQUIRY AND INVESTIGATION

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By Eithne Hogan

PREAMBLE:

I have been thinking of late about a comment made that as a country, we have become somewhat desensitised now both toward the past era of Tribunals of Inquiry and the newer [put forward as cheaper but probably less effective] Commissions of Investigation/Inquiry models.  I too admit that these tribunals became for me in my earlier adult years an on-going disgraceful but necessary saga – part and consequence of our politically corrupt and ethically eroding political system and inarguably never a sign or symbol of a healthy and ‘functioning democracy’.  In some cases investigated, they demonstrated as a worrying symptom of decadence and decay.  This I knew.  This I questioned.  This I got used to.  And even when I did question and query, I did so with a mediocre level of disdain but never once with the same level and mood of questioning I currently hold and that there is in abundance today.  In a climate of a deepening awakening and urgent awareness of the world and country in which we live; the mood and energy is activated, energised and contagious but an overarching necessity for all good reasons; when those involved are in pursuit of seizing back the narrative of the ‘democracy’ within which we live…  This more critically awakened and audibly alert, vigilant voice has proliferated in Ireland and is disseminated in the overall global political/human sphere.  And hundreds of thousands of people in Ireland are experiencing this active engagement as a shared and collective phenomenon.

Long may it hold!

 

These tribunals of investigation as we all know were grossly expensive and at times meandering enquiries into abuses and corruption that were wide scale in that time and in that era, some bordering on the ridiculously sublime and lavishly ludicrous.  However, the corruption and recent debacles such as Siteserv, IBRC and Irish Water to name but a few have proven indisputably, the rottenness, duplicity and corruption has not yet disappeared from the helm and hold of the ship of democracy in which we journey.  Not by a long way!

 

EXAMPLES OF COST OF TRIBUNALS [Economic cost only]

Beef Tribunal = €27.233m, Moriarty Tribunal €46.15m, Mahon Tribunal €159m and Morris Tribunal €70.72m to cite just some.

[I added up those costs listed as occurring between 1994 and 2013 and it came to an overall estimated total cost of approx.  €393.582m]

 

I don’t know how the Commissions of Investigation/Inquiry compares yet as the cheaper option but my illustration of examples of tribunals is merely to show that:

  1. There is a cost
  2. The cost DOES affect us

 

…Or perhaps it does not affect us all and therein lies my answer.  Just go ahead and vote because in the general ‘scheme’ of things all this really does not matter.

There are 3 issues presently awaiting submission for Commissions of investigation for 2015.  And they too will cost.

 

AUSTERITY AND HUMAN SUFFERING

The years of austerity with their horrific impact on human suffering in Ireland were born and exacerbated since the 2008 collapse and bailout.  Some of these inquiries and tribunals coincide and run parallel with this horrendous physical, psychological and financial damage manifested through evictions, homelessness, mental health issues, suicides, relationship and family breakups, the degradation and collapse of SMEs and family-run businesses, the deteriorating quality of life for the elderly, the young and many others challenged by physical and intellectual impairments, the rise of the ‘working poor’ and the ever-growing trailing list of those impacted by austerity that goes disparagingly on and on…  The psychological cost of austerity alone is immeasurably damaging and continues to store profound problems for the future.

 

So alongside the black hole of the bailout and debt crisis, our monies and taxes were co-existing and funding and are STILL funding these investigations – some necessary and others primarily reactive tools investigating corruption.  Bearing in mind that the investigations are necessary in cases of:

  1. Mistreatment or abuse of a person or of a group and
  2. in cases of mismanagement of public money and corruption in corporations or in government agencies and/or in ministries/departments:

There is an element of ‘reactive problem-solving measures’ evident in Irish politics, gathering force and impetus especially over the last few decades.  Some political activity has been so entangled in the mundane every day and much hidden from us that the words of Heraclitus come to my mind that a hidden connection is stronger than an obvious one.

 

“And so it was that Flood and Moriarty walked hand in hand through the years of the first, genuine boom of the late 1990s and early Noughties, on through the bubble years, and finally all the way into the age of austerity. Both sat in Dublin Castle. Outside the country went through transformative change, while within the respective inquiries, episodes going back over two decades were raked over in minute detail by lawyers being paid premiership wages.  For the handful of lawyers who became millionaires for their efforts in the castle, it was a heady time. Opinions differ on how the tribunal era served politicians, both those active, and those who had left the stage. But one thing historians are bound to focus on was whether it was all worth it for the State, its citizens, and the future”

[Irish Examiner 2013.]

€393.582m

IMAGINE WHAT THIS AMOUNT OF MONEY COULD HAVE DONE FOR OUR SOCIETY.

 

MORE RECENT EXAMPLE: SITESERV

Part of the debacle of Siteserv was that Noonan pulled down the shutters almost two years ago and did not present his fellow parliamentarian Catherine Murphy with the answers to ALL questions she posed.  There was the smell of a rat followed quickly by the noxious spray of the strongest kind of political avoidance and inept self-serving perfume!  The rat, fattening on the lives and hardships of so many people living the lie of austerity as a necessary measure and only fate open to us, squeezed its spineless malleability under the carpets of Noonan’s office.  Meanwhile, the thorough and unremitting force de Catherine TD was determined on smelling the rat out and removing it from its hiding place of convenient truths and denials.  But the subsequent procrastination and delay has resulted in more cost for the country, a cost economic and otherwise. Furthermore, one has to consider Catherine’s role in this endeavour.  Catherine, with all due respect is an elected representative and parliamentarian who should not have to become an investigative reporter to the degree at which she had to do this – although she willingly took this interrogator role and it is admirable and productive that she did so. So with the force of her diligence and fortitude, and irrespective of her motive to chase crook; her essential role as TD became one of reporter and acute Investigator and the Dail became a literal crime scene.  Eventually, the rat was ousted – but only figuratively speaking of course, because as a country, we do not tend to bring to task or sack our politicians or have consequence or justice in the light of truth.

 

So now we see the opposition in the Dail whose parliamentary role is becoming increasingly geared toward more criminally-focused investigation on political and corporate fraud– not some of the time as a rarity– it seems to be ALL of the time.  And as a country, we have adapted to it and morphed into its evolution.  Additionally, especially in the last two years, alongside this more aggrieved nature of parliamentary opposition, WE have become the opposition outside of the Dail as co-operators in this never-ending investigation.  We investigate, inquire, query, report, confront and embattle.  This is not a sign of a functioning democracy.  Without slipping into facetiousness, we presently have ‘The Bill’ in operation inside the Dail and a co-opt of private unpaid investigators or irregulars outside.  Our engagement with our government is primarily hostile. Most visibly and tangibly demonstrated on social media, WE have developed and evolved into a culture of investigation and suspicion and at times have become subsumed into the practice of investigators and spies.  And some of us are on the watch out and are continually wary of suspected trolls and shills and infiltrators and wannabe state controlled oppositional groupings of protestors and suspect organisations.  I’m not undermining the need for caution and vigilance in these times or am I being derogatory, nor am I suggesting that state controlled opposition does not exist as it most certainly does; I am simply espousing there is a pursuit of it as a more frequent and distracting practice which will remove us from our ultimate and desired goal in retrieving our democracy.

 

WE are being pushed into a battle of the erstwhile legitimate opposition versus the corrupted state and designated positioned state control and it can at times become what I would term Facebook Ugly and Twitter Threatening.  Whilst in relation to authentic challengers of which there are many; these pursuits when they become the sole purpose of inquiry are deemed cumbersome and counter-productive to the cause.  How many of us are now familiar with the authentic and genuine ‘Jeff Rudds’ of social media discourse?  We read the discourse, discern the facts, analyse the speculation and extract our opinion from the undeniable and given truth.  All of this occurring with more a healthy confrontational approach to the issue engaged in.  Yes, there is a battle happening and being encouraged and provocatively stirred up – especially on social media.  Yes, there is an equivalent battle on the streets.  Yes, it is peaceful.  Yes, we do protest and guard our right to free speech and rightly so.  And yes, we were given NO choice.  Trust is dead in our current democracy.  But as long as we continue to turn our discourse in on each other, on the street, in activism or in the written word, then trust is dead in opposition as well.  All is lost.  And change will not be enacted.  This is something you already know.  This is something the powers that be already know.  And something they irrecoverably relish. They revel in our confusion of voices, no thought out plans, no co-ordinated strategies for the general election, no map, no compass, no guides and no hope. That old rat is still fattening under the two new €85,000 carpets of the mansion house as we speak. And in its delusion, it thinks it will have its day.  And if we don’t realign our focus soon, it just might…

 

TOPICS

THE MONITORING OF GOVERNMENT AS A PROACTIVE AS OPPOSED TO REACTIVE ACTION

THE ENGAGEMENT WITH OUR DEMOCRACY AS A POSITIVE, WORTHWHILE BENEFICIAL COLLABERATIVE EXPERIENCE

 

My questions to stimulate discussion based on this preliminary piece are:

 

  1. Can a government formed AFTER the general election [GE] rebuild the people’s trust in this floundering and failed democratic system?

The answer to this one helps inform people on how they will vote.

  1. How? With what mechanism or process: e.g. tackling and dealing with issues of accountability, ineffectiveness in the performance of a member [and I don’t mean just the use of the party whip on policy control and preferred party options], self-regulation, managing or removing incompetent TDs, confronting broken or outing the outright avoidance of pre-election promises and mandates, eliminating corrupt dealings with industry/corporations/companies/other state agents, nepotism, preferential treatment to peers or groups, exclusion and marginalisation of others etc. etc.
  2. Name a party or independent. Explain the mechanism of management, monitoring or process of accountability in action. Who is the Watcher?
  3. Is there a mechanism for fully or partially inclusive, citizen interaction or any social control or citizen-say with issues addressed in no 2 AFTER the GE, beyond the election ballot box? If so, what are they?  If not, why not?
  4. Can we ONLY achieve the criteria set out in point no 4 with a system of Direct Democracy or its equivalent – if any?
  5. Are we to remain on this pathway up to and after 2016 as criminal ‘investigators’ and sceptical opponents with varying degrees of powerlessness in our own governance? Is there a pathway or bridge built on trust?
  6. Without a change to the underlying system of ‘inextricably prone to corruption interconnectedness’ in the Dail, in the courts, in the judiciary or police, how are we the people, the electorate, the ‘citizens’ to be convinced that the old way but JUST with new people on board will suddenly magic away the long-term damage of shoddy, corrupt and corrosive, inept governance? Do we operate exclusively in blind trust or with an eye to new more effective policies?  What policies would achieve this renewal of trust?  Has any party or independent outlined a planned approach to this rebuilding of true democracy and the purity of the democratic principle?

 

Why are the answers to these questions important? Because:

  1. There is a cost
  2. The cost DOES affect us

 

…Or perhaps it does not affect us all and therein lies my answer. Just go ahead and vote because in the general ‘scheme’ of things all this really does not matter