Hamill’s Beat - Low standards in high places

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“Feck it, sure it’ll be grand,’” sums up popular reaction to the Mahon Tribunal. It’s the Irish way.

A politician fumbling in a greasy till, adding the halfpence to the pence (as W.B. Yeats almost said) doesn’t bother us. It takes something like a paedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church, or maybe in any other church, to do that.

We were bored with Mahon after the first day. Blanket media coverage has that effect. It anesthetises us. Anyway, what did Mahon tell us that we didn’t know?

News of corruption in Irish public life wasn’t new. Political parties everywhere are always in favour of high standards, so long as they only apply to the other parties and not to them. (Just think, for instance, of Cameron’s Tories coming into office promising to tighten up the rules on lobbying.)

Don’t tell me you believed Bertie Ahern’s stories about his personal finances, in the first place? A Finance Minister with no bank account? All that guff about a “few good wins on the horses,” whip-rounds by friends at dinners in England followed by brown envelopes stuffed with cash and so on. Newspaper columnists shouldn’t be rude to their readers but if you believed that, what planet did you used to live on?

Does it matter? Sure, Bertie’s “a lovely man”. That’s what a woman called him in a radio vox pop. Like a character in a Sean O’Casey play, he’s “a darlin’ man, a darlin’ man,” and he always looked after his constituents in Drumcondra. What odds if he got mixed up in a little bit of ‘foolishness’? That was the popular chorus. What’s the fuss about? Isn’t it par for the course for politicians? It’s only to be expected. After all, isn’t Bertie one of the lads?

Fair play to the former Taoiseach for his commitment to our peace process. I’d be the last person to take that away from him. He was a skilled negotiator. This was apparent in his dealings with the Unions as well as with our parties.

Like most people, I was quickly bored by the Mahon coverage, yet it’s profoundly important. We must hope that the findings won’t be in vain. Those of us who love Ireland should be profoundly angry about low standards in high places. The Republic has been betrayed. It should be a matter for heartfelt regret. It’s vital that the necessary follow up isn’t swept away on a sea of apathy. Corruption in Irish public life must be ended.

It isn’t possible to express the whole situation better than W. B. Yeats did in his poem ‘September 1913’: “Was it for this that the wild geese spread/ The grey wing upon every tide; For this that blood was shed, / For this that Edward Fitzgerald died, And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone, / All that delirium of the brave? / Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone, / It’s with O’Leary in the grave.”

The Edward Fitzgerald, referred to in the poem, was an aristocratic leader of the 1798 rebellion. He was fatally wounded at the age of 34 during his arrest in Dublin. Emmet and Tone need no biographical note here. The O’Leary referred to in the last line was John O’Leary who died in 1907.

He was a leading Fenian and an impressive figure in cultural and nationalist circles.

Incidentally, he was an Irish separatist but not a republican. He believed Ireland should have a constitutional monarchy.

Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday