Could Our Political Parties Organise a Booze-Up in a Brewery?
Deaglán de Bréadún
Here’s a little saga that may or may not speak volumes about the political set-up in this country. The story begins with a news report by yours truly last week on a report from the Standards in Public Office Commission about the funding of political parties.
By interesting coincidence the report was published the same week as a group from the Council of Europe (that’s what the Council logo looks like, above) was visiting Dublin to look at the system whereby parties here organise financing for their activities, principally elections.
Having learnt about the Council of Europe factfinding trip from the Commission report, I decided to write a follow-up piece on the group, who it was meeting, etc.
But when you start asking questions, you never know what you’ll find out. The arrangements for the visit were being coordinated here by the Department of Justice who say that a letter was sent on May 22nd to the senior officials of six political parties, inviting them to meet the Evaluation Team, as it was called (incidentally, on that date The Irish Times published an opinion piece by columnist Elaine Byrne previewing the visit: to read it, click here.)
Fianna Fáil, Labour and the Greens all accepted the invitation. Sinn Féin sent an email query as to the nature and purpose of the visiting group, which the Department says was duly answered on May 27th. After that, nothing from Sinn Féin.
There was no response at all from Fine Gael or Libertas. When I phoned the Fine Gael press office last week, the initial response was that they knew nothing of the letter but would be “delighted” to meet the group (they were from the Council of Europe Groups of States Against Corruption, established in 1999 and called Greco for short: Ireland is a member, along with 45 other states.)
Finally, FG located the letter and managed to arrange a meeting, at the last minute, for Friday morning. Sinn Féin, pointing to its record of transparency, also tried to arrange a meeting but it was too late as the team’s three-day visit was coming to an end. Libertas, still insisting it had no record of the letter, also tried to arrange a meeting, but also too late. Labour was originally due to meet the group on Thursday but this was unfortunately postponed until Friday and that was cancelled because the Labour representative was ill.
Obviously there was an election campaign on and party representatives were eager to point this out to me when I phoned. But consider this: the Council of Europe, under the auspices of the Department of Justice, invites the senior official in your organisation to a meeting (so we are told) and . . . what happens?
Only three out of the six parties accept the invitation – although only two of those three would actually meet the group and two meetings arranged with the third party fall through.
Two of the six parties don’t even respond, with one initially denying all knowledge of the letter only to find it later on, and the other still maintaining that it has no knowledge of the document. And another party still – SF, as mentioned – responds with a wary email query and then lets the matter drop.
All this against the background of the Tribunals going back over the years and the turmoil that led to Bertie Ahern’s resignation, not to mention countless speeches in the Dáil, several prairies of newspaper space and eons of broadcasting time devoted to the relationship between money and politics.
Dear Reader, if a letter arrived in your door from the Department of Justice on behalf of the Council of Europe, you would take it seriously, would you not? No matter how busy you were, you would respond to it, would you not? If you were part of an organisation putting itself forward as the most efficient and reliable group to organise the affairs of this state, you would make sure to give the matter your full attention, would you not? If you were proclaiming the need to shine a light on the grey area between money and politics, you would be desperately keen to meet a respected international body which was examining the subject, would you not? At the very least, you would make sure the letter wasn’t mislaid, would you not?
The lesson seems to be that if you are organising a booze-up in a brewery, stay away from our political parties, or most of them.