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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Nobody's at fault. Nobody's to blame. Nobody's responsible

No, that's not the forthcoming title of a biography of our Fianna Failure-Regressive Democrat coalition government but it would certainly be an apt one. A forthcoming report into the systemic communication failures that led to last week's constitutional crisis regarding our statutory rape laws is due to be published in a fortnight, and being an internal investigation, it's sure to be a whitewash of Hutton proportions.

As Bertie, McDowell et al scramble to deflect blame and re-establish their profoundly damaged credibilty, can we not, for once, allow them to continue rewriting the events of the last 10 days with a spin that makes them look like they were handling the crisis. Bertie Ahern went swanning off to the US to play the statesman after assuring the Dáil that there was no danger of any convicted sex offenders being released on foot of the Supreme Court ruling. When this proved damningly untrue last Tuesday, he remained abroad and didn't open his mouth on the subject until Thursday. In his place, we had the Tánaiste - the deputy Prime Minister of this country - speaking like a Joe Duffy caller in the Dáil, seemingly baffled and outraged at the situation as if there was nothing she could have or could do about it. Remember, she's the deputy prime minister of the country.

Then she and the Justice Minister gave wildly conflicting accounts of who knew what and when regarding the pivotal CC case that led to the abolition of the section of the 1935 act. All the while, the lack of preparedness for the crisis was never the responsibilty or fault of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform or the Attorney General Rory Brady. Faulting the government for the legal debale caused by the Supreme Court was never going to hold water. However, the political and governing response to it is purely the government's remit. But, as the crisis deepended last week, it became abundantly clear that Fianna Failure and its coalition partner were more concerned with salvaging their own reputations than actually finding solutions.

And where was the Taoiseach in all this? Presumably he was up in every tree in North Dublin trying to find out who was to blame for this mess. What did he find out? A senior official in the Attorney General's office is scapegoat apparently. Who this official is is anyone's guess. My own guess is that there is no official and that any independent analysis of last week's bungling would place the blame right at the door of the Attorney General himself, one of the Taoiseach's closest allies.

Why this conclusion cannot and will not be entertained by the Taoiseach is because Bertie remembers all too well the precedent established by his predecessor as leader of Fianna Fáil, Albert Reynolds. The AG sits at the cabinet table but is not a member of cabinet so lies outside the remit of collective responsibility. So who takes the flack when the AG messes up as gravely as this? Former AG Harry Whelehan bungled the extradition of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth in 1994, and amidst furious public (and intra-governmental) outrage, the Taoiseach fell on his sword and resigned, leading to the collapse of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Partnership government. The Taoiseach is the one responsible for the conduct of the Attorney General but will Bertie have to turn in his seal of office like Reynolds?

Of course not, because Bertie doesn't believe in demanding things like integrity, efficiency and honour from his cabinet, official appointees or himself. What a tremendous message this whole disaster sent to the impressionable minds of this country: you're never wrong no matter how much the facts indict you, never take responsibility for anything, never show respect for the people of your country, efficiency is a thing of the past, always find some anonymous scapegoat to save your own hide, put your own reputation and career above everything else and don't even think about doing the right thing. Such is the nature of politics in this country since his brand of short-term, visionless, bland, meaningless, non-commital, cowardly governing took hold. Yes, Bertie may be a great politician, but almost by definition, that means that he is an increasingly terrible leader.

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