There are no standards for public office in Ireland. There are double standards, triple standards, take-your-pick standards. There’s even a Standards in Public Offices Commission, which is a toothless watchdog. Politicians live in a world of political ethics a la carte. If they transgress, they may be appropriately punished, or they may get away with a slap on the knuckles; it all depends on who they are, their political clout, how they deal with the media and mob sentiment.
Robert Troy must have realized this last week as his world began to unravel. Troy was in trouble. He had acted like an idiot by failing to list several properties in his register of interests. Such a sin of omission was extremely reckless.
The annual declaration of a TD’s financial interests is a dangerous area, especially for ministers. It’s foolish to ignore the fine print and hope for the best. Apparently Troy did. He was carefree in his approach and optimistic in his interpretation of the rules. He wrongly believed that some of his 11 properties didn’t need to be declared. But a public figure’s multi-million dollar real estate empire is deeply embarrassing in a housing crisis. But first he was counting on having a fighting chance of getting out relatively unscathed.
Troy is not a crook. I’ve been a Troy observer for almost five years. As Fianna Fáil’s traffic spokesman, he was the man who haunted me daily when I was a minister in the last government. He took lumps from me at every opportunity in the Dáil and its committees. During this time I got to know him well. He viewed the public spats as a game. Behind the scenes and away from the cameras, we regularly had to pass legislation because the “trust and supply” deal required the support of the opposition for numerous measures.
Although he bombarded me with constant personal attacks in the Dáil Chamber, his conduct in private was always honorable. He worked responsibly on important legislation that made the new runway at Dublin Airport possible. Eventually he even withdrew Fianna Fáil’s objection to my drinking and driving law. He was deadly with the Soundbite, ruthless in his attacks but brutal in his details.
He rarely bothered me during the committee stages of bills because he didn’t deal with the nuts and bolts. Just the kind of guy who could skip the boring parts when filling out a register of financial interests.
Ten days ago Troy had obviously expected to cheat the gallows without too much effort. Worst-case scenario, he would have expected a cricket on the Dáil floor, but that would have been a two-hour tie-breaking wonder. Like other ministerial transgressions, his would be forgotten in a few weeks. As a frustrated but adept inquisitor at the Dáil, he knew the process of Dáil issues was being rigged to please the minister.
If he had looked at the recent precedents, he would have hoped for only a very brief dispute. He probably remembered others in greater trouble, such as his own senior minister, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar. Like Varadkar, Troy had committed no crime. Like Varadkar, he had cowardly apologized. As Taoiseach, Varadkar had disclosed confidential information, which was arguably a more serious sin than Troy’s omissions. Varadkar, despite his wrongdoing and despite his public admission of low standards in public office, will be Taoiseach again in December. Varadkar went on to beat a no-confidence vote against the Dáil with ease.
Similarly, Simon Coveney, another heavyweight in the Fine Gael hierarchy, faced music last year over a serious ethical misdemeanor. Coveney’s proposed appointment of former Minister Katherine Zappone as special envoy did not meet acceptable standards for public office holders. The process was faulty or non-existent. Coveney apologized to an Oireachtas committee and faced a vote of no confidence.
In both the Coveney and Varadkar cases, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and, crucially, Eamon Ryan’s Greens voted in favor of the perpetrator. An apology once again satisfied Ryan. The reign of the Green leader continued. If one of the two largest fish in Fine Gael had been sacrificed, the government would have fallen. The Green leader’s conscience does not guarantee regime change.
So was Troy judged by the Varadkar standard of ethics? Or the Coveney standard? He must have believed that an apology, a Dáil cricket, even a vote of no confidence would suffice. Initially, both Micheál Martin and Varadkar rowed behind him; but their solidarity was short-lived when Ryan came up with ideas to investigate; Troy is not a heavyweight. The loss of a junior minister would not threaten the government. He was thrown under the green bus.
Didn’t Troy remember the sinners of 2020 a little further back? Remember Golfgate when the Taoiseach fired Minister of Agriculture Dara Calleary for taking part in the Oireachtas golf excursion in Connemara? Calleary was disposable. The mob barked for blood. It was summary justice, now seen as hasty in the face of the Golfgate court case, noting that the event organizers did everything they could to comply with Covid regulations. They were the findings of a court, not a court of vacillating public opinion.
Martin bowed to public outrage when he forced Calleary to resign. Another Golfgate victim, Phil Hogan, was removed as European commissioner when he was stripped of political support in response to anger at his participation in the same golf outing. political justice.
Public anger, Dáil numbers and the political influence of the offending party are the main determinants of punishment for violations of acceptable standards in office.
Political survival over ethics. In 2017, Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald was unfairly forced to resign after an outburst of false outrage at the hands of Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. The specter of defeat by the Dáil government determined that Fitzgerald was expendable, if innocent. A year later she was cleared of all guilt and rehabilitated by the Charleton Tribunal.
Troy received initial support from Martin and Varadkar. Eamon Ryan, the man who supported the great beasts Varadkar and Coveney of Fine Gael in their hours of need, refused to support a lesser political offender. Troy was doomed.
None of the mainstream parties, including Sinn Féin, seem to want reform. The gaps in the requirements for the declaration of interests are staggering. Cash, the path to many dark secrets, does not need to be declared. If a TD has huge mountains of unexplained money, it should certainly be exposed. And loans? Why are the identities and scope of an Oireachtas member’s lenders classified?
Troy did wrong. Nobody denies it. But by what standard should he be judged? There’s the Varadkar Standard, the Coveney Standard, the Fitzgerald Standard, the Hogan Standard, the Calleary Standard, and now the Troy Standard. Each perpetrator can choose his own standard.
Forbearance is the default position, but only provided the offender has the Dáil numbers.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/only-one-standard-counts-in-politics-these-days-are-you-disposable-41941745.html In politics today, only one yardstick counts: Are you available?