Republican News · Thursday 25 May 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Charlie - what were you thinking?

BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN

Who is really running the Dublin Government? Logic would provide you with two simple answers. Either (1), Bertie Ahern and Mary Harney call the shots or (2), there is some form of collective cabinet responsibility for the decisions taken by the government and its individual ministers.

Where does this put the growing list of controversial decisions and pronouncements made by Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy? It is not just his decision to appoint disgraced Supreme Court judge Hugh O'Flaherty to the position of vice president at the European Investment Bank.

There are other McCreevy controversies, such as the ramifications of his budget last December, which are still being felt especially in the context of his ill-thought-out tax policies. Then there is McCreevy's ability to attack anyone who disagrees with him. An example of this is his description of his opponents as being ``pinko liberals'', ``whiners'' and ``knockers''. Don't forget also McCreevy's refusal to meet the Irish League of Credit Unions and his department's pronouncements that the first part of the tax cuts promised in the Partnership for Prosperity and Fairness had already been delivered in the December budget. This caused another u-turn by the coalition government.

McCreevy is no stranger to controversy. In a previous lifetime, he was minister for Social Welfare in another Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats coalition. Then, he introduced a series of systematic cuts in the level of secondary benefits received by social welfare recipients.

These McCreevy episodes all add up to an autocratic politician who cares not about the effects of his political decisions. They also point up the failings of a political system that not only allows politicians like McCreevy breathing room but actually encourages them.

This week, we have seen Charlie McCreevy on the defensive explaining his reasons for appointing Hugh O'Flaherty to the European Investment Bank. O'Flaherty and former High Court Justice Cyril Kelly were forced out of office last year because of their involvement in the early prison release of Philip Sheedy, who had been convicted of dangerous driving that led to the death of a young woman.

McCreevy said in Leinster House this week that Hugh O'Flaherty's mistake was that he did not anticipate the ``construction'' that could be put on what he did in the Sheedy affair.

This may be so, but Charlie McCreevy, apart from misunderstanding himself the depth of bad public feeling about the O'Flaherty appointment, has also misunderstood the whole problem of O'Flaherty's involvement in the Sheedy case.

O'Flaherty has refused to explain why he intervened in the case and what he actually did do. A simple explanation a year ago on these two points might have led some people to believe, like McCreevy, that O'Flaherty should be given a ``second chance''.

It is likely as An Phoblacht goes to print that the Leinster House motion against his appointment will fall and O'Flaherty will disappear from public view into his 140,000 a year post.

It is also interesting that the opposition parties' anger is directed not the manner of the appointment but at the person nominated. They agree with the idea that such posts are the spoils of political office. Not even counting the EU posts available to successive Dublin governments, there are more unelected political appointees in the 26 Counties than there are elected representatives. This is fundamentally wrong.

The shrill cries from Fine Gael and Labour are merely those of bandwagon jumpers. They sensed the public outrage at the appointment and went for the jugular. How ready would they be, though, to bring forward legislation reforming the whole process of such appointments? Don't hold your breath. This is a week of selective self serving outrage only.


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