Tuesday night’s Six One news had it all; personalities, drama, intrigue, and embarrassment. Eamon Gilmore’s Dáil performance was, as usual, very measured, but unusually, very nervous. I’ve always been impressed by Gilmore, having interviewed him a number of times since he became Labour party leader, and there was no doubt he was nervous about the magnitude of the task before him; calling on an Irish politician to resign on grounds of honour.
It could be my youth, but I can’t remember a moment like it as long as I’ve been following politics. Not in Ireland, at any rate. In Britain there is a culture of resignation and rising from the ashes – Peter Mandelson has made more resignations than most, but now occupies a position of great authority over Brown’s government as it struggles to stay in power.
Many of our politicians are fine people. Contrary to popular belief, many of them actually got into the job to help other people. However, they do not operate in a vacuum and cannot ignore prevailing moods in Irish culture; they reflect the people they represent.
We have known for a long time that our politicians were enjoying the high life. The infamous Galway Races tent is the most common example of this, and greed has been a theme, particularly over the last ten years or so, roughly matching the period in which Fianna Fáil have been in Government.
However, politicians are not the only ones who were greedy over the past few years; bankers are the best example of this, with inflated salaries to match their oversized cars; property developers bit off more than they could chew, and the list goes on. However, there’s a sense in which every sector of society reflected the pattern – at a very basic level, people got greedy. One house was not enough. Cars were not enough – it had to be SUVs. One holiday a year? Pah. We deserved more.
In fairness, this was not just an Irish trend. TV shows like MTV Cribs and My Super Sweet 16 displayed a growth in greed during the noughties that was almost obscene.
In that context, what John O’Donoghue did wrong was merely reflective of the prevailing culture; the problem for him was, he had more resources at his disposal, and those resources just happened to belong to us, the taxpayers.
I am glad Eamon Gilmore made the leap and forced O’Donoghue’s hand. The prevailing climate has changed; ostentation is no longer in vogue, and the Government has been terribly slow to acknowledge that.
But the reluctance with which the Opposition – and indeed the Government – took in the seriousness of the revelations made by the Sunday Tribune was telling.
O’Donoghue’s former role as Minister of Arts, Sport and Tourism meant he was an obvious target for the Tribune’s persistence – he was bound to have a lot of air miles mounted up. Freedom of Information requests are not cheap or easy to carry out, and the Trib was forced to choose who it would go after, to an extent.
What if it had chosen another politician? Or what if the paper had had the resources to go after the whole Cabinet? Or indeed one of the Opposition front benches? Something tells me O’Donoghue would not be the only one resigning then.
Something had to give – the country is in crisis, and this may only, hopefully, be the first step in a real series of changes.