Minister did right thing for wrong reason


He had to go, but not for some silly and inconsequential letter – he and others colluded to harm public welfare, writes VINCENT BROWNE

TREVOR SARGENT deserved to be driven from office and from public life.

He, in collusion with others, has done great harm to the public welfare. He has joined with others in mortgaging the country’s future and the welfare of citizens.

He, in association with others, supported measures that are palpably unjust and has condoned such conduct by false claims to be acting in the public interest.

He had to go – but not because of that great damage to the public welfare, nor the mortgaging of the country’s and citizens’ future, nor his support for injustice and his false claims to be acting in the public interest.

He went because of a silly and entirely inconsequential letter he wrote to a garda seeking to have a prosecution of a citizen withdrawn. Wrong, deserving of reprobation, but not a resigning matter.

Same with Willie O’Dea last week. Certainly the nasty slander of Maurice Quinlivan was deplorable, and his protestations – that the falsity of an affidavit sworn by him was a mistake – may be doubted.

Willie was personally and, as part of a collective Cabinet, guilty of the gross deception of tens of thousands of people in Limerick by solemnly promising funding for the regeneration project for the deprived areas of the city, and then cynically abandoning those promises; he was guilty of consigning these people to further misery by prioritising projects of relatively little public worth (eg roads and tax breaks).

We have a skewed sense of morality in politics, as though it is encompassed solely by matters of personal decorum and propriety and nothing to do with the public interest.

There is massive corruption in Irish politics, some of it to do with corruptions of some individuals in politics but, overwhelmingly, it has to do with a society that has been devised by politics, a society in its essence deeply corrupt.

Corrupt in the way it distributes resources, corrupt in the way society itself is structured, with some people enjoying recognition, wealth, status, power and influence, and a huge mass of people belittled by the system, impoverished by it, made powerless by it.

It is corrupt in how it diminishes the lives of so many; corrupt in how it justifies corruption as being a public good; corrupt in the way it kills people.

Yes, the way it kills people – apologies to readers who are familiar with this groove, which I have traversed repeatedly in these columns and elsewhere.

Directly because of the deep social inequalities in our society and the resultant stresses and pain these inequalities beget, over 5,000 people die here prematurely every year.

This is established by the Institute of Public Health in that report I bang on and on about, Inequalities in Mortality, that, inexplicably, no one seems to bother about – see it at

On page 11, it states: “The report establishes the pervasiveness and magnitude of occupational class inequalities on the island. In both North and South the all causes mortality rate in the lowest occupational class was 100 per cent – 200 per cent higher than in the highest occupational class.

“This was evident for nearly all the main causes of death:

- “For circulatory diseases, it was over 120 per cent higher.

- “For cancers it was over 100 per cent higher.

- “For respiratory diseases it was over 200 per cent higher.

- “For injuries and poisonings it was over 150 per cent higher.”

How could a commentary on the corrupt nature of our society be more eloquent? How is it that this gets no attention at all, not from the political class, not from the media?

How come there is no political crisis about the kind of society we have devised? How come, given these realities of how our unequal society kills people, that when our society was made even more unequal by cutting the brittle protections against deeper inequalities contained in the social welfare system, there is still no crisis? No resignations? Even when the welfare of the fifth top wealthiest sector is prioritised by persisting with tax relief on massive pensions costing €1 billion (see the ESRI report on pensions policy, published last December)?

How come there was no crisis when a report by the Department of Finance last June disclosed that, in spite of the alleged attempt to close tax loopholes, the average effective tax rate for people earning over €500,000 was just 20 per cent?

And then still no crisis when billions of society’s wealth is committed to bailing out the wealthy bondholders of our insolvent banks at a cost that will certainly deepen inequality and injustice here for generations to come, unless there is a sea change in our political culture?

Trevor Sargent and the Greens, as much as Fianna Fáil, are responsible for the continuance and exacerbation of injustice in our society.

The Greens don’t bear culpability, as does Fianna Fáil, for the creation of this injustice – and Fianna Fáil alone is not to blame.

The Greens, however, have become complicit in this corruption and deserve the oblivion that befell the Progressive Democrats – as does Fianna Fáil.