Monday morning rant.
Bertie will have all of this week to try and dig himself out of the hole created by the Irish Times leak last week, which revealed confidential details from the Mahon tribunal about payments to politicians. The Taoiseach has now made several statements on the issue, each time evading the actual amounts given and instead attempting to deflect attention towards the leak itself as irresponsible journalism, or now describing the donations as loans. Apparently the money was given to him temporarily, by a close circle of 13 friends, to pay for his solicitors fees during his breakup with his wife Miriam in 1993. Reportedly in some cases the money wasnt (or hasnt yet been) paid back. The rumoured amount of the total donations/loans is anywhere between €50k and €100k, although the Taoiseach himself has said that it is nowhere near that amount.
Bertie has hands down refused to divulge the details of these donations during his tenure as the Minister for Finance, comparing them to communion money presents from his grannies. He maintains he has a right to privacy, and that all of his dealings have been 100% tax compliant. This is fair enough, and when pictures of him out on a date with a new potential partner appear in the gutter press, you cannot help but wish him some privacy in his personal life. Likewise with his marriage breakup - nobody needs to hear the ins and outs of a personal relationship and the runup to its dissolution. The money however, is a slightly different matter. As everyone knows being an elected representative comes with the duties of power. You are in a position to make decisions at a very local/parochial to a national level, which affect people you may not be at all acquainted with. These decisions can be very influential in many ways.
In an ideal world, an elected representative would take into account many factors independently when arriving at a decision from that power bequeathed on him/her. The wishes of the community (not just the majority), the impact on the environment, the benefits to society as a whole, and so on. Yet as we have seen time and time again, it simply does not work that way in reality. The brown envelope and the corporate funding seem so hard for politicians to refuse. In this particular case, it seems very, very strange that a man in Bertie Ahern's position, and wages - a TD with a high ranking minsterial position - would have to solicit loans from 13 (13!!) of his friends in order to pay solicitors fees for a separation. Stranger yet that after 13 years that some of these loans have never been paid back. Where can I get one of these loans please? My local rip-off bank doesnt seem to offer those long term options with 0% interest. On the few desperate occasions that I have had to borrow from friends, I usually pay the money back as soon as possible when my financial situation improves. I cant say that Bertie would approach paying back loans in the same way, but his financial situation/salary has definitely improved somewhat since 1993.
Even if everything is tax compliant, donations or loans to politicians stink. As taxpayers, all money being paid to politicians (whose salaries we bankroll, never forget) should be open and transparent. Government departments funded by the exchequer (which is funded by our taxes, never forget) must provide a detailed breakdown of where their spending is being done. Shouldnt all TDs bank accounts be publicly viewable? Why not? These people are being paid by us to govern the country in an independent and fair manner with our best interests at heart rather than their own, and we have the right to see if their decisions are being tipped by the scales of dodgy payments.
The whole episode shows how rotten Fianna Fail is to the very core. It is one of several issues to have cropped up in recent weeks which demonstrate how ideologically and morally bankrupt the party is. One of these was the dismissal of Dublin City Councillor Liam Kelly from the party whip on the council. Kelly was pictured at a party in an apartment in Blanchardstown on a grainy mobile phone camera with what appeared to be a rolled up banknote in his hand, and hoovering up a white powder on a table in front of him. He claimed he was being blackmailed for the pictures but never fully explained what he was doing in them. If he was doing cocaine or speed, does it really matter? He was at a party minding his own business, he's an adult and he has the right to decide what he wants to do with his own body, even if this involves putting a load of chemical shit into his nostril. Yet: Jim McDaid TD, a GP who claimed no less than six months ago that politics no longer held any interest for him, has changed his mind recently, and has decided to go for re-election up in Donegal. This man is a convicted drink driver, who was caught driving the wrong way up a dual carriageway in the pitch black of night after a corporate schmooze fest. He could have easily killed many people with his actions. Yet has he been expelled from Fianna Fail? Of course not. For all the bullshit about wanting to cut down on deaths on our roads, stripping McDaid of his party membership would have been a way to demonstrate to the public that drink-driving is simply not socially acceptable in any society - as would have been a similar move with GV Wright, who knocked down a nurse while driving over the limit. Yet this has not happened. It seems as if there is one law for drink drivers and another for recreational drug users.
But what Liam Kelly was doing was illegal, I hear you say, and it finances criminal gangs who are killing innocent people. The last time I checked drink driving was also illegal, but lets move on. Michael McDowell (PDs, nothing to distinguish them from FF) in particular has been very vocal on this. He has strongly spoken out against middle class users of recreational drugs washing their hands of the killings and turf wars that erupt between rival drug dealers. He wants people to stop snorting cocaine because it ultimately finances the purchasing of weapons and the killing of human beings. There is a longer argument here about drug use and personal choice, which I wont get into, but McDowell ultimately believes that it is in the power of the people to stop the level of violence in our communities. Yet at the same time, McDowell and his cohorts have it in their power to stop innocent people being killed by the guns and machines of death being transported through Shannon on a daily basis by the US Military. Yet they choose not to. How do they expect the middle classes to give up their fix of coke or yokes to stop violence which is not immediately visible in their sphere of existense, when Fianna Fail refuse to give up their fix of money floating Shannon airport from the US treasury? If politicians are meant to lead by example then they are not doing it in this case.
You may also recall Dermot Ahern (FF) accepting assurances from Condi Rice on her visit her that the US was not transporting suspect to secret detention camps because it didnt have any. This assurance was enough for him not to have US Military warplanes inspected. The Council of Europe report on this network was rubbished at the time by politicians here in the Republic. Since then George W Bush himself has admitted that these secret detention camps do exist. So will FF authorise inspections of the planes any time soon? Dont hold your breath.
Another recent example of Fianna Fail's left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing was Noel Ahern's call to tax property investors "out of existence". This was appealing to lower middle class voters who have found themselves priced out of the home market in the last five to ten years. Many housing units in Dublin have been bought by speculators who rent them out or simply leave them empty and let the price go up for a sale in a year or two. Apart from the nonsense politicking of calling for something and not actually doing it when you can, it was actually Fianna Fail who watered down the Part V judgement which facilitated local councils taking up to 20% of private housing developments for social, shared ownership and affordable housing. This meant that instead of vital housing units coming on stream for those on lower incomes, local councils (many controlled by FF) were able to take cash payments from the developers instead. Also the 10,000 affordable homes financed via central funding rather than local councils, which was trumpeted by Bertie himself a few years ago, never materialised. The unions were supposedly instrumental in negotiating this previously, yet there was no mention of the complete lack of social housing being built during the last round of cosy partnership talks, which of course were given the green light by the membership after the leadership instructed them to do so.
So what does all this mean? In the end - NOTHING. You would think that people would learn from obvious corruption and hypocrisy, so blatant and glaring as the sun on a cloudless day. Yet, people will vote for Fianna Fail at the next election. In their thousands. Jim McDaid will probably top the poll in his constituency, as will Bertie. It is not limited to Fianna Fail either. Ex-FG man Michael Lowry, whose house was paid for by Ben Dunne, topped the poll in Tipperary last time round. His greed was exposed, but the Irish public are stupid enough to reward it. Take your pick anywhere in the country where you think there is a groundswell of opposition against the current political system. Its an illusion. The people will happily vote for the parties that have been shown not to have their slightest interest at heart. As they will time and time again... what can I say? We get what we deserve.