Ireland's high and mighty never brought to book


OPINION:Why is nobody ever held accountable in Ireland? Why do we just go on accepting that we’re being fobbed off? Why are we apparently prepared for ever and a day to accept mediocrity, writes BRENDAN LANDERS

ONE MORNING in 1999, when I was living in Canada, I picked up my newspaper and there on the front page was a picture of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police raiding a house and taking away boxes of files. The house was the home of the premier of British Columbia, a province on the Pacific coast.

The Mounties were investigating charges that the premier, Glenn Clark, had accepted free renovations to his home in return for the granting of a casino licence. Clark was forced from office but was later exonerated of all charges.

I went to work, where the talk around the water cooler was all about the raid. Remarkable to me the conversation revolved around the likelihood of Clarke’s guilt or innocence and not one of my Canadian colleagues expressed an iota of surprise that the Mounties had raided the premier’s house.

There was another Irish man working in the building and he joined in the chat. The moment our eyes met we each knew what the other was thinking: that raid would never happen in Ireland.

My favourite TV show is Law and Order, an American series in which the first half-hour of drama depicts the men and women of the NYPD investigating a crime and charging a suspect and the second half portrays the district attorney’s prosecution of the case.

I love those hard-nosed New York cops with their rugged individualism, their sense of duty and the carefully nurtured creative tension that dominates their relationship with figures of authority. I savour how they relish taking on City Hall and bringing down the miscreant high and mighty. Why can’t Irish cops be like that? Why don’t our gardaí display the odd streak of independence and go after a big shot or two?

I love the steely grit of Law and Order’s Irish-American prosecutor Jack McCoy and the twinkle he gets in his eye when he sends another corrupt politician or bureaucrat to the Big House.

Where, I wonder, are the Irish equivalents of the likes of Jack McCoy – on the telly or in real life? Why aren’t our halls of justice teeming with righteous state attorneys who live to line their walls with the trophy heads of dodgy politicians, bent bank-board members, bribery- prone property developers and conspiratorial bishops?

Why is it that, no matter how egregious or diabolical the behaviour of the great and good of Irish society, they are never brought to book and hardly anybody seems to really care?

The attitude of the Irish citizen to the powers-that-be is bizarrely supine. For a nation with a reputation for rebelliousness we’re an extremely docile bunch.

This is a source of much frustration for many of us who have lived elsewhere and observed more assertive notions of citizenship.

It’s getting so bad that we’ll soon need a 12-step programme for recovering returnees to rehabilitate us towards acceptance of the national culture of inertia.

We struggle to reconcile our sense of fairness with this apathy. We have, however, learned to keep our mouths shut about it because, when on occasion we have given voice to our disquiet, we have met with one of three responses, none of them very positive. The affable try to pacify us with the ubiquitous phrase: “Ah, sure, this is Ireland.” The defensive ones go hostile and rebuff us with the well-worn words: “If you don’t like it here why don’t you feck off back where you came from.” And the vast majority blanks us out and gives us the silent treatment.

Many moons ago, when I was in first year in secondary school and corporal punishment was still in vogue, I wrote a letter to the Irish Press to complain that a teacher had slapped a boy in my class for no apparent reason.

I wasn’t complaining about the use of corporal punishment, mind, I was giving out about its application in this instance.

The more emotive sections of my epistle were scalped out and what I regarded as a relatively innocuous version of my diatribe was published. Nonetheless, a major scandal ensued.

The head brother initiated an inquiry, there was talk of my expulsion and my parents were up and down to the school pleading for mercy.

The upshot was that I was demoted from the A stream down to D. Demotion was no great hardship for me because as far as I was concerned I met a far better class of person down in D.

What perplexed me was that, during the entire hullabaloo, there was precious little said about the substance of my charge that the teacher had hit the boy in the wrong, which was, of course, to my eyes the nub of the issue.

That evasion constantly finds echoes in the silence that greets my efforts to initiate conversation about certain aspects of the Irish national psyche.

The only time that I can recall the Irish people becoming so outraged that they took to the streets en masse in hot anger was in 1972 when British paratroopers murdered 14 civil rights marchers in Derry. This so incensed us that we burned down the British embassy.

Can we only get mad at the Brits, I wonder? Is our sense of national identity so skewed that we think it’s somehow all right for our own people to shaft us? It’s not as if, God knows, we don’t have just cause for indignation, especially nowadays as we gaze forlornly at the terrible consequences of our long silence.

Why don’t we burn down the Department of Education headquarters when our children sit in rat-infested schools or freeze their little arses off in prefabs that have been temporary for decades?

Why don’t we burn down Hawkins House when our parents or grandparents live out their penultimate days in squalor on trolleys in hospital corridors?

Why don’t we burn down the Archbishop’s Palace when our clergy abuse our children and the bishops protect the evil-doers?

Why don’t we burn down Leinster House when our Government squanders our wealth, impoverishes the country, plies its own members with money and privilege and then defies the wishes of the people and clings on to power without a real mandate?

I’m not advocating riot or arson (at least I don’t think I am) but, gosh, some righteous indignation is called for.

So what will we do? We’ll have an election and resort to the same old tribal shenanigans in which we’ve been indulging ourselves since the foundation of the State.

It’s like an ancient family feud that eclipses all other matters and has been carried from one generation to the next until the origin of the disagreement has become utterly irrelevant.

At a time when the nation is in dire need of leaders who can think outside of their own little boxes, all we get is the same tired old platitudes and rehashed rhetoric.

We’ll vote for Fine Gael and Labour and they’ll go into government for a few years and they’ll tinker with the economy and maybe they’ll balance the books.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil will regroup and make a comeback, and this mad carnival will go on and on and on like some medieval Celtic Twilight Groundhog Day.

This is nonsense.

Are we mad or what?

Brendan Landers is a freelance writer

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