How Luke Ming Flanagan explained away his penalty points

Roscommon TD displayed hubris in condemning a system of which he himself availed

Luke Flanagan and  Joe Higgins at a Campaign against Household & Water Taxes protest  on Dublin’s Grafton Street.  Photograph: Alan Betson

Luke Flanagan and Joe Higgins at a Campaign against Household & Water Taxes protest on Dublin’s Grafton Street. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The only apt word for his actions over the past three months, and his self-obsessed speech last night, is 'hubris'.

In his extraordinary Dáil statement he variously cast himself as a victim; or as a deep undercover operative ready to expose a fiendish plot. It was others who had made him cleanse his record of penalty points, he said, pointing his finger at a Garda sergeant and some unnamed official in Roscommon County Council. Somebody else was to blame, not him.

His decision not to disclose that he himself had points quashed not once but twice was a tactical one, he also claimed. He would wait until Alan Shatter said in relation to the investigation into allegations that gardaí had quashed the penalty points for others. And then in a dramatic denouement he would reveal to a dumfounded Dáil that Shatter was wrong because he himself had had four points quashed off the record. QED. Astounding.

So presumably, that's why he kept schtum at the press conference with Mick Wallace, Clare Daly and Joan Collins before Christmas; that's why he didn't even let them know his own little secret; that's why he sat back while they named names in the Dáil; that's why he used the word corruption to describe chicanery that he himself benefitted from. Amazing.

Apparently, his tone on local radio station Shannonside FM was far more contrite this morning and he actually admitted that what he had done was "corrupt" and presumably wrong.

What's potentially damaging politically for Flanagan isn't the fact that he availed of the facility but the fact that he didn't disclose it, the cover-up.

His account that he was going to reveal all when Alan Shatter published the conclusion of the investigation just does not hold water. There is no tactical advantage to him doing such a 'reveal' at the end of the process, rather than at the beginning last December when he fronted a press conference with three other TDs to expose the practice. If he had disclosed it then, it would have given proof positive that the practice does occur.

Was he naive in thinking that it was not going to get out? Naive verging on the ridiculous. He was asked by journalists and on Twitter around Christmas time had he himself had penalties cancelled. He had denied it.

Earlier this year, I wrote to all 166 TDs asking them had they had penalty points cancelled. Some 95 replied, including Clare Daly, Joan Collins and Mick Wallace - all of whom confirmed they had no penalty points cancelled. Ming Flanagan did not reply. But he was not alone.

More specifically, a Twitter account user named Conor Salt tweeted Flanagan on Christmas Day asking had he got a penalty notice for driving with a mobile phone squashed two years ago.

Flanagan replied: "No. Happy Christmas."

Conor Salt came back to ask him was he sure and he didn't want to spoil his Christmas.

Flanagan replied: "Definite. Why do you ask".

That was the end of the conversation. Now using the John Bruton defence that you did not ask the right question, he could technically say he hadn't received the notice two years previously - it was a year and a half.

But the net point was he denied that he had received a penalty notice. And now we find out that it happened not once, but twice.

On the first occasion, he was stopped in Castlerea and told the gardaí that he was on his way to the Dáil. There is constitutional protection for TDs on the way to the Dáil on business or for a vote but it dates from the civil war - essentially to prevent TDs being arrested by guards acting on instructions from political opponents so as to prevent them from casting votes in the Dáil.

Since then it has rarely been evoked. Tipperary TD Sean McCarthy evoked it in the 1980s when arrested on suspicion of drink driving. I can't think of any other example in recent times.

There is still some explaining to do and some contradictions to explain. Flanagan himself wrote to the gardaí claiming he was on his way to the Dáil. That was a Friday, which is not a normal sitting day (although the Dáil does sit one Friday every month), so he will have to explain why he was going to Dublin that day and was his business in Leinster House and related to Dáil duties.

His allegation about a council official "sorting out" the second batch of penalty points that December is a very serious one. And that needs further elucidation, not only from himself but also from Roscommon County Council.

It's also obvious that when he arranged and benefitted from his points being cancelled, it wasn't as a means of exposing the practice but to avail of it.

For him to become a leading member of a campaign to expose the practice while keeping his own history on the matter to himself is breath-taking in its hypocrisy.

It's easy to say he hoisted by his own petard. But he has been quick to ridicule and diss opponents in the shrillest -and sometimes cruellest - possible terms. You keep coming back to the word hubris.