No vote on Oireachtas powers is a relief for all
I am delighted with the rejection of the proposed constitutional amendment on Oireachtas inquiries. The arrogance with which the government tried to sneak in this potentially extremely dangerous measure was truly breathtaking.
It would not have been a case of if — but when and to what extent, politicians would have abused the sweeping powers the Oireachtas could have granted them had the proposal been carried. We have surely had enough experience of politicians to know that they cannot all be trusted to conduct the affairs of the nation in a fair, honest and reputable manner.
I have in mind a prominent TD who at one point chaired the Oireachtas Ethics Committee and was jailed three times failing to cooperate with the planning corruption Tribunal, and a former Minister for Justice who was jailed for tax fraud. Not to mention telephone tapping of journalists ordered by another politician.
Last year, I sat in the public gallery to view part of the Seanad debate on the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill. In the course of the very heated debate, a number of Senators uttered hurtful and nasty remarks a about a named animal welfare campaigner whose views on hare coursing they found unacceptable. The woman referred to had no comeback on this because the speakers were protected by Oireachtas Privilege and thus immune from any action for defamation.
That was bad enough, but I shudder to think of how some TDs or Senators with a strong personal commitment for or against a particular stance by a controversial campaign group might be tempted to exploit any new "special powers" against such a group.
We may shrug and say: Sure it won’t have come to that and it couldn’t happen here. Americans, proud of their democracy, thought it couldn’t happen there either. When Senator Joe McCarthy began his special committee “hearings” very few Americans foresaw how his “inquiries” would morph into a sinister and terrifying political witch hunt.
The NO vote was a triumph for democracy and the traditional Irish love of freedom. Greater accountability is one thing. An Oireachtas police force with echoes of the East German Stasi is quite another.