Is politics public service or self service?

Twelve Fianna Fail TDs, including three members of the cabinet, will not contest the next general election. It’s a sign of the level of cynicism that people now associate with the word ‘politics’, that most people wonder whether the retirements are so that politicians can take advantage of the current pension arrangement pensions. While some have left for reasons of health, the collective ship-jumping just three years after the formation of the most fraught Dail in our history prompts The Insider to wonder why people put themselves forward for office in the first place. Was it just to enjoy the trappings of power while the good times rolled, or was there a deeper commitment to lead and to give service?

At the time of the formation of the State there were no expense accounts, no second homes in Donegal, or stays at the most expensive hotels in Venice. Politicians acted in the public interest. There were real statesmen. As Fianna Fail head into the next election, it is difficult to find signs of statesmanship.

Fianna Fail’s options going into the next election are confused. They can pretend the bailout and the transfer of €50 billion of Irish taxpayer’s money to the banks never happened, and go into the election “with flags flying and hearts held high”, as Mary O’Rourke announced this week. The old trick of “burying our head in the sand like hippopotamuses” as one Fianna Fail councillor memorably put it. Or they find some one else to blame. Conor Lenihan was eager to put his hands in the air last week:

“We put our hands in the air and say we were responsible,” announced Lenihan, “but in fact one of the main reasons that...we were able to make those mistakes is we were not checked by a strong opposition”.

First we had Lehmans, then weak regulation (a regulator this Government appointed ), then it was the bankers not coming clean about debts, now it is the opposition wot done it! Every single target his brother Brian Lenihan set in the banking crisis has turned out to be hopelessly optimistic, and every decision utterly misguided. But according to Fianna Fáil this is merely the media being mischievous.

Or they can dissocate themselves from the decisions that the senior party members have made. ‘It wasn’t me Gov’; that seemed to be what Ned O’Keefe was doing when he called on Taoiseach Brian Cowen to resign, and called for a general election. One wonders was this Mary O’Rourke’s thinking too, when she claimed to have blue shirt roots. But it is hard to disassociate completely when you have voted in favour of every tarnished decision.

Or they can resign. Funny that. Former Fianna Fáil senator Don Lydon was paid almost €150,000 in travel and subsistence expenses between 2004 and 2007 after changing his normal place of residence from Dublin to Donegal. No resignation. Four former Fianna Fáil politicians, including Lydon, appeared in court over an alleged corrupt multimillion-Euro land deal. No resignation. Former minister and Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue clocked up a staggering €800,000 in personal expenses between 2006 and 2009, including €27,000 on a four day trip to New York and €9,000 on car hire on a trip to Cannes. Fianna Fáil TDs complained he was “hounded out of office by the opposition”. Still a TD. And John O’Donogue is not one of the twelve TDs bowing out at the next election.

Twelve Fianna Fail resignations. And counting. Isn’t it a great pity they hadn’t the guts to stand down while Fianna Fail policy was destroying the country.

If we want reform, it is incumbent on the electorate to decide whether they are voting for people performing public service or self service. I know who I will be voting for.


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