Often, when I am introduced to somebody, and on hearing that I am from County Tipperary, I anticipate the inevitable question: “Tell me, why do you elect Michael Lowry down there?” I trip over my words in a rush to explain that I am not from his constituency. “That’s the North Riding,” I say, “and I live in the South Riding.” Then there is the predictable: “Well, why do they elect him.”
I have asked a friend, who lives in the North Riding, the same question. He is an ordinary, decent, intelligent man and while he does not reveal whether he himself votes for Lowry (and I suspect he does!) he gives me a stock answer: “Well, you see he is a great man for getting things done. I mean if there was a hole in the road outside your house and you told Michael about it, the hole would be repaired the next day.” Full stop.
The fact that the County Council is obliged to maintain the roads does not form part of the argument. There is nothing special in the air of North Tipperary that nourishes this political clientism. It is all pervasive. In a way, it is the local interest versus the national interest. It is allegiance to the tribe rather than to the people of Ireland. And though billions and billions have been spent on educating us Irish, we still believe we can only achieve access to our rights through the intervention and influence of a politico, even though their function is the pursuance of the national interest, of all the people of Ireland, and not just to filling potholes, which is the responsibility of a very local statutory body.
Consequently, though Michael Lowry has been excoriated in the Moriarty Tribunal Report, he still retains the loyalty, and the votes, of one-third of the constituents of the North Riding.
And, according to recent announcements made by the Ministers for the Environment and of Health, this fact allows him easy access both to them, to the Taoiseach, and to members of the Cabinet. It is an access which is not influenced by the references made to him in the Moriarty Report. Again, according to RTE reporters, Mr. Lowry is frequently seen in the corridors of power, affably chatting to fellow elected representatives. There is no cold-shouldering.
Maybe this is the way of politics, a civilised bonhomie, but it is not the way of the ordinary person, who perceives much of what is contained in Moriarty, and especially in the recently released Mahon Report, as a betrayal of their trust, and who feels that some of the conclusions reached therein should be tested in our courts.
At the present time, thousands of our young people, disenchanted, are leaving our shores. Hard-working citizens are losing their jobs and their homes. Some of the contributors to Ireland’s current sorry state, are identified in the Mahon Report in the pernicious alliance between politicians and developers. The bankers remain as yet unchallenged in any form of public forum, but not, of course, in public perception.
But, as yet, we see no retribution and the delays involved in bringing charges in our courts are incomprehensible to the ordinary person, and indeed the Ministers for Justice and Communications have expressed their frustrations with these delays. The law, we are told, is taking its course; its long tortuous course. The evidence deduced in the tribunal hearings cannot be used in our courts, and independent investigation of the original concerns which prompted the hearings in the first place, will have to be pursued. It is a process that in the words of the old song may take “years and maybe forever.”
Meanwhile, ordinary people, going about their normal business remain in angry bewilderment, while many of those censured in the Mahon Report have departed for foreign territory and for new business ventures, or, like Padraig Flynn, are sunning themselves in Spain.
Even in the Flynn case, where the report found a direct correlation between the Gilmartin cheque and the purchase of a farm, there may be a difficulty in framing a charge for our courts. A recent “Sunday Times” report suggests a certain tardiness on the part of Fianna Fail in supporting such a charge.
Dara Calleary, the party’s justice spokesman, is quoted as saying the party did not know about the cheque (intended as a donation to the party)... did not ask for it ... did not get it ... “but if the party needs to do something to encourage the law enforcement agencies to pursue those involved in corrupt practices, we should do whatever is necessary.” Note the qualification and the tentative conclusion.
Contrast this with our ordinary run-of-the-mill transgressors and their treatment in our law courts. Those of us with long experience as reporters and stenographers have, in our time, seen processions (indeed I have personally seen generations) of the poor, the feckless, the stupid, the vicious, the unfortunate, the mentally-unbalanced, the illiterate, the doomed, the alcoholic, the drug-addicted, the ineffectual, the abandoned, and the plain bad (and all combinations of the foregoing) expeditiously brought before our courts and eventually sent to prison.
And that is where most of us would want them to be. Off our streets. Locked up. Preferably for a long time. The milk of human kindness, and of understanding, has little cream at the top, especially if our houses have been broken into, our money or possessions stolen, our space invaded.
All of that is ordinary dirty little crime, easily identified, and committed by people not clever enough to cover their tracks. But the deeds, events, the nods and winks, exchanged between clever white-collar people, and which have brought Ireland to its current depressed and dispirited state, are not easily identified, nor classified. Do their origins lie in unethical, rather than in unlawful, practices?
Meanwhile all the plain people of Ireland can do is to register their disdain, as unemployed and emigrating, they wonder if there is one law for the poor and another for the rich, or if, the law really is an ass!