By Peter O’Neill.
WHILE WATCHING THE shenanigans unfold on RTE’s Prime Time Investigates last Monday night, I couldn’t help but think of the story of Gyges, who gets a mention in a debate concerning justice and morality in Plato’s second book The Republic. In the story, Gyges finds a ring which enables him to become invisible whenever he wishes. He then goes on to use his new found power to kill the king, Canduales, while taking the king’s wife and throne as his own. The basic parable taken from the story asks: Would someone who has such unfettered power do good with that power, or, as we saw last Monday night, would they use it to better and further their own political or even financial standing?
No alarms and no surprises here!
What was revealed last Monday was no surprise but it was shocking and, if I’m honest, certainly a tad comical! It was shocking since we had County Councillors who were clearly and openly asking for bribes or else soliciting for further monetary favours in the future. It was comical as we had one brazen Fine Gael Councillor, Huge McElvaney, in a ‘Fr Ted-esque moment’ during the filming, scooping up a pile of imaginary money on the table in front of him before ‘imaginarily’ stuffing the pretend money into his two breast pockets. Yes, very comical indeed, but then, very disheartening.
It was sadly though of no surprise. It was no surprise because, like Gyges before, politicians in this country can and do get away with corruption behind closed doors and away from unseeing eyes since there is nothing in place to stop them but their own judgements. Brian McKevitt from the ethics ‘watchdog’ group, the Standards in Public Office (SIPO), pointed out last Monday that SIPO is toothless, under-refunded, under resourced and does not even have the necessary powers to instigate an investigation.
So, there is no impetus not to be corrupt; no jail time or fines, at most they may resign from the party claiming indifferences in policy – while others decide to ‘tough it out’ – yet they are still allowed to keep their seat, pensions and whatever nest eggs they’ve squirrelled away after many years of ‘hard work and service’ to the people. The offenders could even be re-elected in the future, if past voting history is anything to go by!
But why shouldn’t politicians be allowed to earn a few extra quid on the side, after all, every little helps? They shouldn’t because it is unjust and immorally wrong– public servants are meant to serve the public first and foremost, not themselves, since we elect them to ‘supposedly’ work in and for the public good! Yet, even though these politicians are paid very well for services rendered, while even having un-vouched expenses at the same time, that’s not what’s going on. Ok, while people are political animals and are greedy by nature, some of us, by nature, are going to be greedier than others and, within the political sphere first and foremost, that greed needs to be addressed. Since the fish always rots from the head down!
So what could be done to put a halt to this greed, corruption and shenanigans?
Since the revelations, there have been calls for the appointment of an independent planning regulator, an overhaul of the under-resourced and toothless Standards in Public Office Commission, a fully resourced anti-corruption body with full police powers and even an an amalgamation of agencies already in place like the Standards in Public Office Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to deal with those in positions of power who abuse the position. Presently, the system for investigation is split between a number of these different and toothless authorities.
Yet, Án Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, announced yesterday that new and strengthened anti-corruption laws would come before the Cabinet next week, which is a far cry from what is being called for since, unfortunately, this is where the political will stops. If the Prime Time Investigates report had not shone a light on the corruption going on behind closed doors, nothing would have been done about it, since the political will is simply just not there, unless it is forced! The Government, first and foremost, had to be embarrassed into a reaction – as SIPO’s Brian McKevitt pointed out last Monday that any advice given to Governments for the past ten years to tackle corruption has largely been ignored and this Government has been in power for nearly half that time. Added to that, the Government decided to vote down a Sinn Fein Bill six months ago while having no proposal of their own!
Even the Moriarty Tribunal findings have been sat on by this Government for the past four year even though the Statute of Limitations for the findings runs out next year. So, the political will, to tackle corruption and to deal with corrupt politicians, past and present, simply doesn’t exist! My own fear is: whatever legislation this Government decides on to tackle corruption which, and let’s not kid ourselves, seems to be pretty wide spread if not endemic, in Irish politics it will be ‘watered-down’, and not enough or it will be under-resourced and under-manned and, again, toothless – effectively, and un- like Gyges, powerless!