I left this response on Conor Lally’s piece in today’s Irish Times, which is titled ‘The Public Accounts Committee needs to know its limits on the penalty points saga’
How about that: the Irish Times crime correspondent can’t see much of difference between, on the one hand, a Garda cancelling penalty points and, on the other, a TD holding constituency clinics and making representations on behalf of his or her constituents. What is more, the journalist blurs the distinction between altogether legitimate activities for a public representative (ensuring that constituent rights are upheld and entitlements are met) and illegitimate ones (lobbying on behalf of special interests).
Clearly there are good and bad public representatives. But public representatives are not an autonomous group. They are, however unevenly and however unsatisfactorily, subject to the scrutiny and demands of the public. If a particular TD provides assistance to a member of the public in keeping with his or her duties (and does so as a consequence of Ireland’s emaciated public service infrastructure and weak democratic culture) that member of the public is under zero obligation to vote for that TD.
There is no comparable situation when it comes to the police. An Garda Siochána occupies a powerful position in Irish society, combining the capacity to survey the activity of members of the public with a presence that implies the use of violence. If you have a situation where the Garda is failing to treat every member of the public as equals in terms of the law but rather provides indulgences for particular individuals, you have the exercise of unaccountable, arbitrary power that is proper to an oligarchic police State, not a democracy.
Accountability to the public is a basic element of a democratic societies, where democracy is the basis for the law, not vice versa. Perhaps the crime correspondent of the Irish Times is by definition unable to see this. If not, you’d have to at least wonder where he gets his analogies from.