Many moons ago, an independent public official became the most powerful person in the country.
r Tony Holohan, Chief Medical Officer, gave direct and public advice to the government on what action needs to be taken to stave off a global pandemic as much as possible, protect the population, save lives and not overwhelm the healthcare system. The stakes could not have been higher as the advice led to lockdowns, restrictions, stipulations, the suspension of industries, sites, education and spending an additional €20 billion a year.
Now that’s all forgotten and we can’t even bother to ask Dr. Paying Tony his salary and investing €2 million a year in planning for future pandemics.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
The new supreme leader is the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). Through no fault of her own, Catherine Pierse has the ability to decide the fate of the incoming Taoiseach.
tanaiste Leo Varadkar is scheduled to return to Taoiseach this December as part of the rotating role in the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Coalition. However, the most significant impediment to this finding is the investigation in which Varadkar sent a confidential document to a friend, Dr. Maitiú Ó Tuathail, passed on. After 16 months of Garda investigation, a file has now been handed over to the DPP to determine whether charges should now be brought against Varadkar.
The Gardaí made no recommendation as to whether a prosecution should be instituted. Usually a certain limit must be met for the Gardaí to forward a file to the DPP, rather than simply dropping the matter and saying there is no case.
It’s hardly surprising that after such an extensive investigation, a file is passed and you can’t read into the final decision.
Nonetheless, this is the most politically charged investigation of our time, with the gravest ramifications hanging on it.
As is to be expected, Varadkar has always maintained his innocence and has not been charged with a criminal offense or prosecuted. Eager to settle matters, the Tánaiste is confident that he will be exonerated.
After the Gardaí confirmed that the file had been turned over to the DPP, Fine Gael began to think hard about what would happen next. Maybe there was a little too much protest. The Blueshirts’ line is that there is plenty of time here to get a decision from the DPP. Copies of the DPP’s annual report have been circulated, showing that in 2018 and 2019, in 99 per cent of cases, decisions on whether or not to bring charges were made within six months, with only a small lag 96 percent in 2020. Maybe yes, but that’s no easy case.
The implication that there should be a quick decision is far from subtle. This appears to be part of an act to show confidence that Varadkar has no case to answer. “Everything here suggests we’ll know sooner rather than after December. All eyes are now on the DPP,” a party source said.
Political pressure is certainly also weighing on the DPP. It would be best to let her take whatever time she needs and not try to undermine the office’s authority.
There has not been such a focus on legal authority since the Mahon Tribunal’s investigation into Bertie Ahern’s finances ahead of the 2007 general election. On that occasion, in dramatic circumstances, the then Taoiseach called the election a day before the tribunal began deliberating on his circumstances, which would have exposed discreet information to the public. That evening, influential Fianna Fáil, including the late Brian Lenihan, said it would be inappropriate for the tribunal to meet during an election campaign. The court adjourned. Ahern won his third choice. Ultimately, the revelations haunted Ahern and led to his departure from office less than 12 months later.
Varadkar now faces a series of scenarios. A quick decision by the DPP not to press charges is the best-case scenario. A quick decision by the DPP to prosecute then means the new Taoiseach faces criminal prosecution. The way out for Varadkar would be to still protest his innocence and express belief that he will be acquitted. But the time a court case would take would not be in his favor. His position as leader of the Fine Gael would probably be untenable. Waiting for the outcome of an investigation is one thing, expecting to become a Taoiseach when a trial is imminent is a step too far.
A protracted decision by the DPP is causing difficulties for its coalition partners Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan. Fianna Fáil and the Greens are expected to support a candidate for the office of Taoiseach who may face criminal prosecution for corruption.
Nobody can realistically say when the DPP will make a decision. What’s in Varadkar’s favor is unanswering the question of an apparent successor within Fine Gael. Simon Coveney and Paschal Donohoe represent stability and continuity but lack the popularity among their own TDs. Simon Harris and Helen McEntee offer renewal and repositioning, but a repeat of the risk taken with Varadkar five years ago. And that didn’t end well.
Regardless of what happens, doubts about Varadkar’s leadership will remain. Aside from a patriotic surge of support in the early stages of Covid-19, Fine Gael has not shown many signs of recovery since the rather disastrous general election performance. The skepticism expressed privately by ministers and other senior figures in the party yesterday does not bode well.
Fine Gael’s best-case scenario is that its leader goes into the next general election after evading prosecution, much like Charles J. Haughey’s comeback after being declared innocent by the 1970 gun trial failure. The scale of the allegations against Haughey of alleged involvement in a conspiracy to smuggle weapons to the IRA is hardly comparable to tossing an envelope containing a document to a buddy. But it’s uncomfortable territory for Fine Gael.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/haughey-esque-scenarios-for-varadkar-are-uncomfortable-territory-for-fine-gaelers-41583494.html Haughey-like scenarios for Varadkar are uncomfortable terrain for Fine Gaelers