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A fine track record in manufacturing crises

11 June 2006  By Vincent Browne
The crisis then takes over from all other news until the next crisis comes along, when the preceding crisis is forgotten.


So far this year, we have had the following crises: January 8: Ahern said he had ‘full confidence’ in Minister for Justice Michael McDowell over the disclosure of confidential security Garda files to a foreign national concerning Frank Connolly, then executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry. No justice minister had been known to do that ever before. This crisis kept us going nicely from late 2005 into 2006, and it may still have some way to travel yet.

A fine 2006 track record from Fianna Fail


One crisis after another takes over from all other news until the next crisis comes along, when the preceding crisis is forgotten.

Our crisis productivity is very satisfactory for those of us in the news business. Some of us thought that, when Charlie Haughey left office in February 1992, there would be no more political crises, but he trained his successors and opponents well. We have continued to produce crises at an impressive rate.

So far this year, we have had the following crises: January 8: Ahern said he had ‘full confidence’ in Minister for Justice Michael McDowell over the disclosure of confidential security Garda files to a foreign national concerning Frank Connolly, then executive director of the Centre for Public Inquiry. No justice minister had been known to do that ever before. This crisis kept us going nicely from late 2005 into 2006, and it may still have some way to travel yet.

January 13: Luas problems were more significant than previously disclosed. This fine project - which was originally estimated to cost around €260 million for three lines, but ended up costing €780 million for two - still isn’t right.

January 26: Minister for Transport Martin Cullen made a mess of the penalty points system. The carnage on the roads, which has been worsened by government inaction on initiatives urged for years, flares up every now and again into a crisis, but quickly subsides.

February 9: Bishop Eamon Casey returned to Ireland and was forced for the third, fourth or fifth time to apologise for the hurt he caused by having an affair with Annie Murphy decades ago, having a child by her, using diocesan money to keep her at bay (money he later refunded) and then absconding to America.

February 14: Ahern appointed Mary Wallace as a junior minister, even though he had led Sean Haughey to believe he would get promotion. It also emerged Ahern had done a deal with Sý´le de Valera to continue in government until the end of 2006, having decided she would retire from politics at the next election.

February 25: Major crisis: the whole republican movement assembled in Dublin to throw rocks at an Orange march, attack our police force and then burn down the city. Later, it emerged that the rioters were an assortment of Dublin youths with little better to do. A shock news story followed these events: there were ‘‘widespread condemnations’’ of the violence.

February 28: the report on the Lourdes Hospital inquiry revealed the shocking abuse of women in the hospital over several decades, in full view of the nursing, medical and administrative staff. Nobody shouted ‘‘stop’’.

March 4: George Bush stopped over at Shannon to meet hundreds of American troops who had also stopped over. Minor reawakening of the crisis over the use of Shannon for American military transfers to Iraq as well as CIA planes engaged in transporting kidnapped suspects to torture centres.

March 6: A young women was murdered at a party in Finglas by men who had been refused entry to the party. March 12: Bertie said crime was not out of control. According to the opposition, crime was not just out of control but was ‘‘stalking our streets’’.

March 20: McDowell went ape outside Buswell’s hotel. He likened Richard Bruton to Joseph Goebbels and said Bruton wasn’t knee high to him in terms of his political contribution to Ireland.

April 8: Patrick Holland – who was suspected of the murder of Veronica Guerin - was released from jail. Uproar. A person known to have been involved in Guerin’s murder (because he admitted it) was never charged. No uproar.

April 4: Republican Denis Donaldson was shot dead in Donegal. Another crisis for the peace process.

April 11: Growing crisis over the Garda Reserve plan.

April 22: Even bigger crisis over the DPP’s decision not to proceed with the trial of Dermot Laide for the manslaughter of Brian Murphy. Marie Cassidy, the chief state pathologist, was blamed by Bill Tormey, the chief state alarmist.

April 30: Opinion poll showed rise in support for Fianna Fail. Crisis for the opposition.

May 10: Decentralisation plan came apart at the seams - and at the centre.

May 20: Afghan protestors removed from St Patrick’s cathedral.

May 27: Poll showed drop in support for the government.

May 31: Mr ‘‘A’’ released from jail. Uproar and crisis for the government. McDowell made an ass of himself and his colleagues.

Most of these stories seemed significant at the time, yet almost none of them is of any consequence, however delightful it may be to see McDowell go ape and spectacularly dig deeper holes for himself, as he did last week. Three of these stories had continuing national significance: the slaughter on the roads, the Lourdes Hospital inquiry and the use of Shannon by CIA ‘‘rendition’’ aircraft.

The government failed to deal with the three major initiatives on road safety that had been urged on it for years: reorganise the penalty points system, introduce random testing for drink-driving and deal with the problem of hundreds of thousands of unqualified people driving on our roads. Penalty points have been introduced OK, but in a bizarre way that makes the whole government strategy suspect.

The random breath-testing is apparently about to start after - how long? - a decade? And the unlicensed drivers? One thing is sure, the government won’t do the most obvious thing: bar everyone who has not passed a driving test from driving. Too radical, too effective, too obvious.

No crisis over road deaths, in spite of the government’s gross negligence and indifference to the issue. No crisis at all over the scale of sex abuse in society. No crisis over the scale of inequalities revealed in that other report I keep referring to: ‘‘Inequalities in mortalities’’.

Among the issues thrown up last week during the sex offenders uproar, there were important questions to do with the scale of sex abuse, the indifference of the state to the issue generally and the refusal to act on the recommendations of the authoritative report on the subject.

No real crisis over the facilitation of US criminality in allowing planes that were engaged in transporting suspects to places of torture to land at Shannon. But who cares? I wonder what next week’s crisis will be?

Vincent Browne sbpost@iol.ie