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Thank God for the Rugby Leinster Express Poltical Notebook by Mick Mulholland

Well, thank God for the Irish rugby team !

Events in Paris on Saturday lifted all Irish hearts and the modest and unassuming Brian O’Driscoll and his colleagues did more for Irish morale, probably not since the equally great Katie Taylor.

They were better representatives of Ireland abroad that the Ministers who fled domestic responsibilities to the four corners of the world. It is a given, of course, that the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, should accept the American invitation and that other Ministers should go to targeted events.

The Minister for Heitage, Jimmy Deenihan, was in Stanford University, California, on Sunday, for instance, launching a website which will provide free global access to collections in our museums, libraries, galleries, archives and theatres.

It is the kind of project that will do our cultural image no harm at all and it could encourage visitors to the country. As the Ministers prepare to return home, and the Dail remains adjourned for a week, the spectre of Frank Flannery and the Rehab debacle continues to rain on the Government’s parade.

It was meant to be so different. In recent weeks, the Government has been attempting to engineer a good news spree. It was to begin with a press conference and a series of self-congratulatory Dail speeches from Ministers and culminate in Enda Kenny’s visit to the White House.

Indeed the Taoiseach and his Ministers have been in such self-congratulatory mood in recent times that, with a bit of encouragement from an over-imaginative spindoctor, they might take credit for Ireland’s narrow win last Saturday !

The arrogance of Rehab defies comprehension. An organisation, which has received huge sums of public money, was not prepared to be fully accountable to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. To cap it all, Mr Flannery was seen sauntering around Leinster House on the day he was to appear before the committee. It has been suggested that Mr Flannery enjoyed a handsome salary as Rehab Chief Executive before his retirement after 33 years rather than the 40 years required to merit a full pension. Some estimates of the salary vary between €300,000 and €400,000 at the time of his retirement in 2006. And some estimates of his pension are in excess of €150,000.

He was later a director of Rehab and paid thousands to lobby Government departments at a time when he was a Fine Gael strategist with unlimited access to Leinster House and, apparently, the corridor where Ministers pass through on their way to Cabinet meetings.

The Government has promised the long-awaited legislation covering lobbying will soon come before the Dail. Lobbyists need to be on a register. We need to know what they lobbying politicians, parties and Ministers about.

We need to know what is said at these meetings and if the lobbyists get special access because of their closeness to a party in power. And we need to know what they are paid. This kind of legislation should have been passed by the Dail years ago.

Mr Kenny’s action was swift when Mr Flannery failed to be upfront with the Oireachtas committee. He is now history, as far as Fine Gael is concerned. He brought it on himself. His party and Labour promised nothing short of a democratic revolution when it came into power. Politics was going to be very different, indeed, and nothing like it had been under Fianna Fail’s long reign.

That was the message. The reality now seems otherwise. Democratic revolution indeed ! At the weekend, matters became worse for Rehab. It was revealed that allegations have been made by a developer against people involved with the charity. Rehab said it would do everything in its power to ensure that the allegations were dealt with as quickly as possible. Time will tell. It has not been a good time in recent months for openness, transparency and accountability.

The farce surrounding the whistleblowers, and the failure of the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, to apologise for unfair remarks in the Dail, was the old politics. Mr Shatter has time yet to apologise. Labour’s relative silence is not good enough in this regard.

Clearly, they see Mr Shatter, a reforming and liberal Minister for Justice, as an ally in the Cabinet. Under pressure on radio recently, one Labour backbench TD did say Mr Shatter should apologise. But there has been no backbench chorus for him to do so.

It is now clear that the Garda Siochana and the Commissioner need to be under the ongoing scrutiny of a Garda authority. Like the introduction of lobbying legislation, it is something that should have happened a long time ago. It has been suggested that the power to terminate motorists’ penalty points should be taken out of the hands of local Garda officers and centralised under a much stricter system. This, too, would be no bad thing. As always, time will tell. n the meantime, thank goodness for events in Paris last Saturday.

 

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