PoliticsAnalysis

Robert Troy’s departure shows the tendency to tolerate errors in Irish political life is diminishing

There was a growing sense that Government Buildings just wanted this problem to go away – one way or another

Robert Troy: his offences are not trivial; failure to accurately complete statutory declarations is a serious matter. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

“This year’s Zappone” – that was rueful but not over-sympathetic verdict of one senior Fianna Fáiler on the woes of Junior Minister Robert Troy, whose unfortunate fate it has been to become the subject of August news cycles which have little else to trouble them.

Last year the torment of Katherine Zappone ended when she withdrew from the job as UN special envoy to which Simon Coveney has appointed her. Coveney’s woes petered out after he survived a no-confidence vote in the Dáil when it returned from the summer break.

In the end the fate of Troy played out quicker than most people around Leinster House and Government Buildings expected. Though his troubles had showed no sign of abating in recent days, his resignation on Wednesday night came a surprise.

It was evidence, perhaps, that even if the Junior Minister’s management of the controversy had left many scratching their heads, his political antennae are sharp enough to sense the inevitability of its denouement, and his temperament is equal to that conclusion.

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The initial story – run by online news site The Ditch – that Troy had failed to fully declare his property interests in the Dáil register of interests that TDs are legally obliged to fill out every year has been followed by an intense scrutiny of his business dealings, his property developments, the payments he has received, and profits he has made on them.

A supposed clear-the-air interview (after days of refusing to answer questions) with RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson on Tuesday led to further questions from those following the story closely and to a general incredulity about how a Minister of State could have the time to manage a portfolio of 11 properties. This would be a valid question at any time. It has added weight during a housing crisis. Predictably, political opponents accused him of profiting from the shortage of housing.

Troy’s offences are not trivial: failure to accurately complete statutory declarations is a serious matter. As Fintan O’Toole has noted, the entire infrastructure of anti-corruption legislation in Ireland – a problem with which the country has had well-documented difficulties – rests on a system of self-declaration by politicians and political parties. Nor is it a defence to honestly believe that your obligations were different from what the law says they were. In any case the regulations are not that hard to understand.

In the past, or maybe even at a different time of the year, he might have survived. But his departure shows that if Irish political life has often displayed a tolerance for errors and misdemeanours in the past that tendency is diminishing. A price for mistakes is now often demanded, even when a head on a plate is not the end result. Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney both endured bruising – and politically damaging – Dáil motions of no confidence.

There was a sense around Government circles on Wednesday that Troy could not endure too many more days of this controversy, especially if new facts and queries continued to emerge. Eamon Ryan made a game effort to kick to touch on Wednesday when he suggested a (time-consuming) Sipo (Standards in Public Office Commission) investigation.

Troy himself said that he would be happy to answer questions in the Dáil when it returns (in three weeks’ time). Colleagues were not confident that he would get that much time, and they were right. Politics being politics, TDs are already eyeing the vacancy and considering their own chances for promotion.

Across Government and Leinster House, as people slowly wander back from their summer holidays, there was a growing sense that Government Buildings just wanted this problem to go away – one way or another. But the wider unease occasioned by the controversy – allied to a perception the Dáil is stuffed with landlords during a housing crisis – may not be so easy to get rid of.