It's not just about McCreevy
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
Speculation on the likelihood of a resignation, or government dismissal, of Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy this week managed to miss the point completely.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is likely to have been delighted at the mass media's concentration on whether or not he would stage a cabinet reshuffle to punish an accident-prone McCreevy, when really this issue goes much deeper then that. Reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic springs to mind, though the Dáil opposition aren't quite as solid as that infamous iceberg.
Mary Harney's opinion on the Sheedy affair, as expressed on an RTÉ programme in June, was informative of the government's then strategy. ``I would predict that three or four months from now, will anybody remember this?,'' she asked
Most ministers in the Dublin government had empathised with O'Flaherty after his resignation from the Supreme Court in April 1999. Some of them had been approached by senior legal professionals to back O'Flaherty, and this considerable lobbying power had obviously swayed the government. Ahern had felt that O'Flaherty's penalty over the Sheedy affair had been too severe, and this view was shared by his cabinet colleagues. While Ahern's spin doctors have depicted him as the reproachful father figure, calling for `no more blunders' at the cabinet table, it is evident that the decision to nominate O'Flaherty was a collective one from the cabinet. Further, it was made with the most blatant disregard for public opinion, or for any sense of wrongdoing.
Mary Harney's opinion on the Sheedy affair, as expressed on an RTÉ programme in June, was informative of the government's then strategy. ``I would predict that three or four months from now, will anybody remember this?,'' she asked. Mystic Mary's powers of prediction have turned out to be a sad reflection of how out of touch this government is. Even the most politically uninitiated person should have been able to estimate the level of public outrage that would ensue when the cabinet decided to nominate for the lucrative EIB post a man they had threatened to impeach the previous year. Or were they that confident, following public apathy at the tribunals, that nothing could rock the boat?
The main problem with all of this is the institutional elitism on which the establishment parties thrive. The Sheedy scandal, O'Flaherty's nomination and even this week's approach by millionaire businessman Ulick McEvaddy on behalf of the government to Fine Gael TD Jim Mitchell, all smack of the `golden circle' politics that has become the status quo in Leinster House.
The Sheedy affair itself, out of which this can of worms has emerged, remains unresolved. Both inquiries into the early release of Philip Sheedy, who was originally sentenced to four years imprisonment for reckless driving, managed to leave us with more unanswered questions. Sheedy himself, and his friend Ken Anderson, who approached O'Flaherty regarding the affair, were never questioned. Nor was Bertie Ahern's friend Joe Burke, who admitted to having visited Sheedy before his release.
At the Liam Hamilton inquiry, O'Flaherty had explicitly stated that he did not ask the then county registrar Michael Quinlan to have the case relisted for the Circuit Court hearing at which Sheedy was released. O'Flaherty then told Eamonn Dunphy during a radio interview that ``the only role I had was to attempt to get the thing relisted''. Isn't it ironic that a man who had held the senior position of a Supreme Court Judge was now telling different stories? So much for truth and justice.
Sinn Féin Árd Comhairle member Seán Crowe, who is set to take a South Dublin seat at the next general election, has called on the government to explain exactly what procedures they use when selecting candidates for such nominations. This follows revelations that the Dublin government used businessman Ulick McEvaddy to approach Jim Mitchell regarding the top EIB job.
``This smacks of the Golden Circle, the power elite in Irish society where unelected business tycoons become key players in public affairs,'' he said.
The holiday taken by Tánaiste Mary Harney and Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy in a French villa owned by Ulick McEvaddy, sparked a public row last year. Mr McEvaddy was lobbying for government support for a second terminal at Dublin Airport at the time.
``Now we hear that McEvaddy is being used by the Government as a go-between for the post of vice-president of the EIB,'' said Crowe. ``Just what is the government playing at?''