A look at Dáil politics in a week in which 26-County Justice Minister Alan Shatter survived a motion of no confidence, despite a lingering controversy over low-level Garda corruption and the news that he was permitted to pass through a Garda checkpoint after failing to provide a sample of his breath.
By Irish Examiner
Ireland has nearly 450,000 people out of work. Emigration seems — once again — to be draining the brightness out of our future.
Our tottering, patched-up health system is dangerously dysfunctional. There are a record number of people in mortgage difficulties or negative equity. The frightening chasm between national income and expenditure means we have to borrow something around €50m every working day to pay basic housekeeping bills. Our escalating suicide rate is amongst the very highest in Europe. Swathes of private sector workers, though not their public sector counterparts, face a genteel poverty in retirement because of shattered pension expectations. On top of all that we are ensnared in an never-ending and increasingly bitter cultural war over abortion. And, as a kind of icing on the cake, a report yesterday recorded that we are amongst Europe’s heaviest cocaine users.
We face stiffening opposition to how we tax international business and that may cost even more precious jobs and foreign investment. Then there’s the fodder crisis and let’s not even mention the weather.
Despite all of that our parliament has decided that the travails, the inappropriate behaviour of Justice Minister Alan Shatter, is the pressing issue of the day and deserves parliament’s undivided attention.
It is unquestionable that Mr Shatter has behaved in an entirely wrong way. His insider dealing, intentional or otherwise, in regard to Deputy Mick Wallace’s brush with traffic regulations was wrong, but the moment his party and coalition colleagues took the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil high ground the affair no longer involved just two politicians but rather our Government, our entire political system and culture — not to mention the Garda commissioner.
Had Taoiseach Enda Kenny, as he should have done, acknowledged that Mr Shatter’s behaviour was wrong, and said that he had dealt firmly with the matter it would probably have ended there and then. However, the blind, Pavlovian circling of the wagons played straight into the hands of those who see some dividend in the slapstick, Punch-and-Judy politics we were once assured were a thing of the past. A comparatively trivial — compared to our other difficulties at least — matter had been pushed from the fringes of political life right to centre stage.
And the Government has only itself to blame. By offering their opponents the oxygen of a smug, mega-majority-style rebuff when contrition would have been more appropriate they threw fuel on the flames. That those flames were fanned by a Fianna Fáil struggling manfully and oh so righteously with a newfound commitment to probity makes the saga even more tragic, disheartening and dowdy.
It is said that you get the politicians you deserve and history seems to confirm that. It is also true that commentary on politics and politicians can seem relentlessly negative, but when politicians behave as tribally, as loose with the kind of standards that protect public life and confidence, as they have done in this instance, then that is the only kind of commentary that seems appropriate. It is said too, with some justification, that we expect far too much of and from politicians. It would, however, be an empowering, uplifting change if they expected — and demanded — more of themselves.