ONCE upon a time, governments used the Easter, summer and Christmas recesses to focus on implementing policies. Not this Government. Within days of the Dail finishing up for the Easter Break, the parties were sniping and attacking each other.
Unsurprisingly, Labour’s Joan Burton was first into the fray. Playing to the increasingly nervous Labour gallery, she targeted Phil Hogan for his ham-fisted approach to the household charge and his meeting Michael Lowry shortly after the publication of the Moriarty tribunal report.
Her comments provoked an angry tweet from Fine Gael’s party chairman. This in turn irked a couple of Labour backbenchers. The squabbling has continued with various gripes and conflicts being hurled into the mix. Not the type of carry-on that would instill confidence in their leadership capacity.
While most of the rowing had been fairly pointless and personal, it came to a head last weekend with a more substantial spat between two of the Government’s heavier hitters.
Rabbitte was engaged in his favourite activity: strutting like a minister but acting like a member of the Opposition. This time it was on the issue of delays in bringing prosecutions against white-collar criminals. His comments brought a sharp and stern rebuke from his cabinet colleague Alan Shatter.
How is it possible for neither man to grasp how central this whole issue is to dispelling public cynicism?
More than 18 months ago I wrote here about the huge level of public anger and disillusionment at the apparent inability of the punitive organs of the State to bring to account at least some of the bankers who brought this country to its knees. That was in the summer of 2010. I was encountering that anger daily. I still do. The last government paid a massive price for its failure to heed the warning it was getting from its own supporters and members on this issue.
As I said in 2010, this is not about pitchfork populism, it is about respect.
Respect by bankers for the rules of banking. The public never wants to go through this again. They want bankers to know that if they break the rules they are likely to finish up in prison. The only way they will know this is if they see it happen to those who have already broken the rules.
Respect for our system of administration of justice. This is the glue that binds society together. Nothing corrodes public confidence in the justice system more than the perception that the law does not apply equally to all.
Why is Shatter trotting out the usual explanations for delay almost two years on — difficult burden of proof in criminal cases; fraud a complex issue; independence of the prosecuting authorities?
How can someone who berated the last government for not moving the process forward faster imagine that offering the same excuses two years on will suffice? Will the retirement of the Director of Corporate Enforcement be added to this list?
Is it even really all that complex?
Perhaps the criminal law is not the appropriate mechanism for expeditiously dealing with those matters?
Administrative sanctions have been applied in both the US and Britain. The former finance chief of Northern Rock was personally fined £325,000 (€393,850) by the Financial Services Authority and banned from working in the industry.
Our Financial Regulator could attempt something similar here while we wait for the authorities to act.
The public’s fury must be assuaged. It has not abated and will not merely fade away in time. Watching ministers wasting time, bickering in public while still doing nothing, only deepens that cynicism.