Sound and fury overwhelm rational political debate

Opinion: antics of John McGuinness undermine PAC credibility

 ‘John McGuinness went away beyond his remit by calling for the heads of senior civil servants who are simply trying to implement government policy with reduced resources.’  Photograph: David Sleator/THE IRISH TIMES

‘John McGuinness went away beyond his remit by calling for the heads of senior civil servants who are simply trying to implement government policy with reduced resources.’ Photograph: David Sleator/THE IRISH TIMES

Sat, Jun 14, 2014, 01:01

It has been another unedifying week in Irish politics with Government, Opposition and the media playing their part in ensuring that sound and fury overwhelmed rational debate on one issue after another.

The week began with politicians vying with each other to express outrage and indignation over a dark chapter in Ireland’s past; the way single pregnant women and their children were treated from the 1920s to the 1960s.

Much of the instant hysteria was generated in response to a wave of deeply misleading media reports suggesting that the bodies of almost 800 children who died at a mother and baby home in Tuam between 1925 and 1961 were dumped in a septic tank.

The actual heart-rending facts surrounding the deaths in the Tuam mother and baby home were outlined by Rosita Boland in a sympathetic and comprehensive report in this newspaper last weekend. However, the old adage about never letting the facts get in the way of a good story meant that lurid and misleading reports went around the world and fanned a political storm at home.

In one of the many expressions of outrage from Sinn Féin, the party’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald condemned a system that administered “the ultimate inhumane sanction on thousands of innocent women and children” .

There is some irony in the deputy leader of a party whose military wing administered “the ultimate inhumane sanction” by killing thousands of innocent people, including women and children, in our own time, trying to make political capital from one of the dark episodes in our past.

The Catholic Church, the Irish State and society as a whole share responsibility for the cruel treatment of pregnant single women over many decades. The spectacle of politicians jostling with each other over the past week to gain political advantage from the sufferings of past generations of women was hardly inspiring.

Uncomfortable reading

On the same day as the Cabinet agreed to establish the inquiry it was also presented with a report about a much more recent political controversy. The report by Judge John Cooke into claims of unlawful surveillance of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (Gsoc) also made uncomfortable reading but for a very different reason. It appears that the entire controversy was a bottle of smoke even though it helped to put paid to the ministerial career of Alan Shatter.

When the Sunday Times reported in February that Gsoc had commissioned a security check at its headquarters in Dublin due to suspicions of electronic surveillance, a huge political controversy immediately erupted.

Much of the comment and the political debate took it for granted that the Garda Síochána had indeed carried out the bugging. Another feature of the controversy was that Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the then minister for justice Alan Shatter were excoriated for suggesting that Gsoc should have reported its suspicions to the Department of Justice.

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