Sleaze effect breaking through
Finally people are beginning to wake up to the corruption and complacent disregard for ordinary people that defines establishment politics in Ireland.
We have waited a long time. DIRT, Moriarty, Flood, McCracken - the list of tribunals goes on and on, yet so too had the rise in poll ratings for the government, until now, that is.
Fianna Fáil and the PDs have taken a plunge and leaders Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney fare likewise in both the IMS and MRBI polls this week. According to the IMS poll, 62 per cent of people in the 26 Counties see the appointment of Judge Hugh O'Flaherty as a wrong move by the government. Thirty-nine per cent want a general election now. Bertie Ahern is making moves to distance himself from the controversy and this is further destablising his relationship with Mary Harney.
Ahern spoke of his hope this week that O'Flaherty might ``in his own time'' tell us all exactly what role he played in the Sheedy affair. However, he added, whether the former judge speaks out or not, his £147,000 job as president of the European Investment Bank is, of course, secure. More secure than Ahern's government, perhaps.
The importance of the Sheedy affair lies in the story behind it. A prominent Irish judge intervenes in a case following which another judge lets a rich boy off the hook. The whole affair smacks of the old boys' network in action - a perfect synopsis of the elitism and inequality prevalent in Irish society.
The ``Ah, sure aren't they all the same?'' reaction to political corruption is not merely an inevitable spin-off of the revelations of sleaze that have emerged in recent times, but an example of how easily the majority of Irish people have been manipulated. Tribunal after tribunal, allegation and counter-allegation, and the concerted confusion of issues and facts have bored and disaffected most of the country.
Many people no longer understand what's going on because the government has assured them that some far-off tribunal is dealing with everything. Spin doctors have confused our perceptions of political life to the extent that one might think Charlie Haughey and Bertie Ahern had been deadly enemies since birth. The easiest thing to do when faced with a crisis is to create confusion, and that's exactly what the Dublin government have done.
The difference with Hugh O'Flaherty's new job is that Ahern and Harney have aligned themselves with an incident of corruption that cannot be juggled like a circus act.
In a week that left Mary Harney speaking about the possibility of the PDs facing extinction following the next general election, it's hard to be pessimistic.