And so it begins… The Seanad and Dáil open for business. Lucky, lucky us… Meanwhile, seeing as we’re talking about corruption September 26, 2007Posted by WorldbyStorm in Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Irish Politics, Labour Party, The Left, Uncategorized.
Quite a day down at our second chamber, perhaps slightly less so in the first. Alex White and Pearse Doherty were uncontentious and professional. Perhaps a little nervous if anything. Shannon loomed large throughout the afternoon.
And it has to be said that there were quite a number of younger faces there. Which is probably good.
Wish Cathaoirleach well…too much posturing… Burma one place I would support protests against the regime…real republicanism… Aer Lingus moving to Shannon…. build motorway to Belfast to send those who fled North back… market forces good…All states are founded on force….Political correctness… delusion of left… posturing…criminals victims of society…accordingly… losing track of argument… can’t quite remember what I was saying… oh yes…protect unarmed members of Gardaí against those who would use lethal force…. old rule of law inadequate… sooner or later armed policement… confront gangs… ordinary decent working class people…
Dear Jesus… and we have five more years of this? Still, a clever, clever speech in terms of making a mark from the outset. Whether he can maintain that sort of energy will be interesting.
Meanwhile here comes Paschal Donohoe (Fine Gael) to second this idea albeit in a softer voice.
[I have to be honest. I think that the idea that we should arm the Gardaí is a dim idea. We are actually well served by our Gardaí on a day to day basis and broadly so institutionally - their unarmed profile is one of the most important and fundamental aspects of an ethos that has survived through a bloody civil war and the considerable political unrest of the early 1930s. The idea that we need an armed policing more than the UK which somehow manages with many multiples of our population and endemic gun crime doesn't make a lot of sense to me].
Ivana Bacik made some sharp points about posturing and suggested that calling for an armed Gardaí was the sort of posturing the Burmese regime might well be supportive of – ouch!
And then Fidelma- Healy Eames of FG got a lash in at Harris arguing that ‘trivialising’ the issue as regards Belfast and Dublin was wrong.
And so it went, clearly enunciated, generally calm speeches about these issues where speakers were quite happy to get the boot in.
It makes me wonder how Harris will operate in a context where there are clearly competing visions of populism. It’s one thing to condemn ‘hypocrisy’ on the part of representatives for areas around Shannon, slightly more difficult when one considers that they actually represent an interest, and of quite a significant section of the population.
Perhaps it won’t be the worst five years after all…
Then back to Leaders Questions. I had no real sense that Ahern is under huge political pressure. He still has that harried look. But seemed well prepped for the questions Kenny put. And as ever there was that seemingly impenetrable wall of figures and accounts. Gilmore came over reasonably well… he was able to say to Ahern directly that he did not believe him. A strong performance and a nice little sting in the tail with a question as to when he did intend to resign.
But the giveaway that all this was political theatre was in the reiteration of good wishes between Ahern and Gilmore and a sort of chumminess. This wasn’t the day for a hanging.
And with that, it was all over… bar the vote… at least for the moment.
Meanwhile today the papers are filled with the wonders of the latest TI Corruption Perceptions Index. Transparency International is a Berlin based organisation that conducts surveys of perceptions of corruption. The key word, of course, is perception. Business people are surveyed to see what their perception is. Clearly that will be to some degree subjective. Yet this provides a useful tool for at least some analysis of the situation.
And a mixed message it is for us, too. The good news? Well since last year we’ve risen from 18th to 17th place. Were at a rating of 7.5, up from 7.4 last year. Where does that place us? Ahead of us are Denmark (1), New Zealand (3), Singapore (4), Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, Norway, Australia, Luxembourg, the UK, Hong Kong, Austria and Germany. Level pegging us is Japan and France comes in a little behind us on 7.3. After that it’s the USA on 7.2, Beligium Chile and so on and so forth, all the way down to Myanmar and Somalia both on 1.4. In total there are 180 countries assessed in the survey.
The bad news? Well, the media are making great play over the fact that our rating in 1995 was 8.57 and we were 11th. Very good. Except that that was in a field of approximately 41. The following year we slipped a bit to 8.45 (although still on 11) in a survey of 54 countries. By 2001 we were 18. Dreadful, except that our rating was 7.5 in a field of 91. In 2003 we were still on 18, but pehaps a tad more cheerily in a field of 133.
And it’s worth noting that the CPI report itself in 1996 noted that:
Score´95 has to be interpreted similarly, but fewer countries were included in the Index and fewer surveys were drawn upon – thus the ´95 column is at best a rough comparison.
But let’s avert our eyes from the stats and look at the local because it is here that the outline of serious problems begin to emerge.
TI Ireland Chief Executive [John Devitt] suggested that “Ireland’s international reputation has been damaged by weak Government safeguards against corruption”. This may be so, although it is difficult to believe that a fairly constant rating in the higher percentiles over the past five years, and one that actually indicates a slight improvement, is going to destroy that reputation.
He also said in the IT:
that earlier this year the Government trebled the value of loans or gifts that politicians could accept without publicly declaring them. Only donations over €5079 to parties and €635 to candidates must now be declared to the Standards in Public Office Commission.
TI Ireland also claims that “too little has been done to prevent corruption in the two areas that are subject of current tribunal investigations”.
I’m no fan of donations, and I think this is yet a further argument to finally prohibit them, but I genuinely don’t believe that this is indicative of ‘corruption’ in any systemic fashion and I’m highly dubious that in the surveys of corruption that most business people would be aware of the level of donations. But forget the donations for the moment. The concentration on finance is understandable. That’s what tends to raise the most ire amongst people, and that response is entirely understandable particularly when they compare and contrast bank dealings running in to multiple thousands of pounds Irish, pounds sterling and dollars with their own situation. But that’s the individual and the specific. It is the systemic where the real problems lie.
In an op-ed piece John Devitt made some very good points. He acknowledged that ‘our ranking is relatively good internationally’ and that ‘the conditions for good governance have improved in Ireland over the past decade. For one thing, our ethics framework is far stronger than it was up to the mid-1990s’. But he also pointed to some fairly disturbing aspects of our public life that while not corrupt in themselves suggest troubles ahead. He noted that:
…there was a decision to discard the Whistleblower Protection Bill which would have extended legal protection for whistleblowers in both the private and public sectors against legal or disciplinary action.
The Government has decided instead to take a “sectoral approach” to whistleblower protection without any timetable or indication as to who will and will not be covered.
That the Privacy Bill announced in 2006 would:
allow the subject of a media investigation into corruption to seek a closed High Court hearing to request an injunction against a reporter. The reason for the court’s decision would remain secret.
The effect of this would be to gag the media before it could even begin its inquiries. This would also be likely to be in violation of the UN Convention against Corruption, a treaty that Ireland has yet to ratify.
And that the institutional structures to oversee transparency and openness in government were too limited, underfunded or in the case of fees for FOI requests simply too expensive. Talking truth to power is a great phrase, but if the means to do so are cut away power walks away unscathed every time.
Most notable, to my mind, is his point about:
The Taoiseach’s remark last year that he had appointed people to the boards of State bodies because they were “friends” didn’t lead to the expected clamour for reform of the appointments system. Instead, the Opposition sat on the fence and the issue was quietly laid to rest.
This really is a matter of serious concern – or should be – because, unlike the Ahern issue, which is time limited, and cannot happen again due to the current ethics acts, the issue of appointments is one that will return again and again. The complicity of the Opposition in this indicates that a ‘winner takes all’ mentality pervades our political culture – even to the extent of influencing those who might be prospective ‘winners’.
And this is where I think there is a genuine problem. Not financial corruption, which while extant can be hemmed in by relatively straightforward laws, but instead a culture which sees the deliberate distortion or evasion of responsibilities – or the peddling of influence – in our political life as something all can indulge in. And while those sort of activities remain legal – which they are – the scope to alter that aspect of the political is limited. I genuinely hope that this is an area that the Green Party will retain its activism in, but seeing the dismissive response from some in FF (people who have no doubt are absolutely not corrupt) about their ‘standards’ being as good as anyone else’s and seeing it as some sort of personal insult, I tend to doubt we’ll see huge movement forward.
So, if anything we could reflect upon the fact that during a period of unprecedented economic activity and growth the country has managed to broadly remain as uncorrupted (or corrupted) as ever. That while the financial side of the equation is being dealt with is a step forward. That there seems to be an unwillingness to recognise non-financial issues as equally problematic is a step back. It is not cause for wailing and gnashing of teeth, but neither is it an unqualified success. As ever the message seems to be ‘by no means the worst, but could do considerably better’. In a response to yesterdays post on Ahern Simone Burns made a good point about the left seeing honesty as an issue. It’s true, but it’s also crucial that the understanding of the term be drawn much wider to shift it away from narrow and partisan political charges (and defences) to incorporate a wholesale reworking of the way we do business, both political and economic, in this society. By encouraging others, rather than indulging in attacks on the probity or otherwise of largely uncorrupted individuals, parties or groups, the left might actually have a significant role to play.