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On the centenary of the Titanic disaster, how appropriate that Fianna Fáil should have a sinking feeling after its culture of corruption and cronyism was unmasked by the Mahon Report
The Whole Hog, 10 Apr 2012
It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated”. (Report of the Mahon Tribunal)
We are now entering Titanic time. Next week marks the hundredth anniversary of the Titanic’s fatal encounter with an iceberg. The loss of the liner on its maiden voyage had an enormous impact in Belfast. In one fatal encounter, it destroyed the sense of invincibility felt by the city and by the industry that was its economic engine. It undermined faith in technology and progress. It was so devastating that some of its builders never spoke the name of the ship again.
With the publication of the Mahon Report, Fianna Fáil’s plunge into the deep has been almost as spectacular as the Titanic’s. And its iceberg? From childhood, we all learned that the tip of the iceberg is just a fraction of the whole. What brought Fianna Fáil to its knees in the last election was the terrible economic situation created by its pals in banking and building. But the rest of the iceberg on which they crashed so spectacularly is a sprawling, hidden mass of intrigue and deceit that has ruled Irish political, social and economic life since the ‘60s, and ultimately ruined it. Only now is it being laid bare just how big that iceberg was, and how deep it went.
Actually, this analogy may be unfair to icebergs: they’re just out there floating around. Being sunk by one may involve either misfortune or stupidity. But what is reported by the Mahon tribunal goes way beyond that. Indeed, rather than an iceberg, what has been revealed is more akin to a cancer, a disease affecting the body politic and spreading its toxins into the other parts of wider Irish society.
The temptation, and it is one to which Irish people all too easily succumb, is to assume that this is how it works, that this is us.
But to take on the guilt would be wrong. While there is no shortage of petty graspers in Irish life, it is not fair to most people, nor to the public service, nor indeed to Irish society as a whole, to assume that everything is infected and corrupted. It isn’t. We don’t routinely have to bribe public servants to get something done, as is the case in very many other countries. Indeed, the kind of crass misbehaviours by a small numbers of public servants uncovered in the tribunals are remarkable for the fact that they are genuinely unusual.