Last week and the week before it was all about Hugh McElvaney, the face who curdled a thousand lattés. The RTÉ exposé on councillor misdeeds had given a new wind to the old story of political corruption in Ireland, and McElvaney’s grotesque histrionics provided the perfect opportunity for another round of tedious sermonising about the dreadful wheeler-dealers down the country and the great unwashed and unredeemed who cannot help but vote for them. McElvaney was disowned by Simon Coveney, the thoroughbred blueblood Minister for Agriculture. He denounced the ‘blatant corruption and self-centred greed’ on display. Meanwhile Labour Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin, said that ‘we have the occassional rogue politician, and that’s the truth of it, that these people are found out, exposed and run out of public life’. Moreover Howlin was ‘gratified Labour councillors had not been involved’.
Those with a memory that reaches back a couple of years or so may recall that Simon Coveney appointed Fergal Leamy, from Greencore, the agribusiness firm run by his brother Patrick Coveney, to the post of special adviser at the Department of Agriculture. In so doing he lobbied for Leamy to be paid €130,000, well above the established limit for special advisers at the time.
A word on special advisers: why do government ministers need special advisers drawn from outside the civil service? Such advisers indicate that civil servants are not to be trusted and that the relation between a Minister and ordinary public servants is an adversarial one. Special advisers mean that public servants are not to be trusted.
Coveney stressed Leamy’s “patriotism” when seeking an attractive pay-packet. Unfortunately the patriotic call of a private equity firm in England proved even stronger after five months. Of course hiring your brother’s business pal for a fat paycheck at public expense is not corruption, and leaving for a sweeter gig armed with an understanding of how a key government department works is not self-centred greed either.
Meanwhile, maybe one day in advance of the next election, Brendan Howlin will be gripped by his inner Elliot Ness and expose his party colleague sitting across from him in the Cabinet. It is the least one can expect from such a doughty sentinel of probity in public life. I am referring to Alan Kelly. No, I’m not talking about Teneo, and I’m not talking about the tender for alarms involving the company Task. It is more mundane than that, really. This evening I came across this photo via the Tipperary Says No To Water Charges page.
You could not find a more daylight case of political corruption if you put it on an advertising hoarding for all to see. No, wait.
Reader, you may have been so drenched to the marrow in corruption yourself that you cannot see what is wrong with this. So I am going to spell it out for you. Alan Kelly is a Government Minister. He is paid over €150k a year, many multiples of what Hugh McElvaney was seeking. If he loses his seat at the next election he will be paid substantially less. Unless a private equity firm in England comes calling, you never know.
The fact that Alan Kelly is a Minister means he is supposed to be a public servant. And being a public servant means you are not supposed to favour any particular constituency or individual over another. To do that would be..well, corruption. But the message Alan Kelly is sending out here -we can take the drive safely message as an afterthought, since neither the name nor the blown up image of Alan Kelly is recognised as an effective measure against drink driving- is that the people of Tipperary have a special place in his Ministerial heart. They have a special interest in keeping a Tipp man in the Cabinet. Of course if this were Michael Lowry there would be people in plush metropolitan eateries inhaling their polenta in disgust at the grubby redneck clientelism of it all. The problem is that this view of political power is normalised in Ireland. It is expected that people in positions of power will pull irons out of the fire for their own fiefdoms. Witness the hare-brained debate some years back over the potential loss of an EU Commissioner as a consequence of the Lisbon Treaty being passed unamended, even when it would be plainly illegal for an Irish commissioner to act in the special interests of Ireland (and even at that, ‘Ireland’ would mean ‘Ireland’s rich’ anyway) or any other country. Fortunately the people were eventually rewarded years later with Phil Hogan getting his succulent position as Commissioner for Agriculture.
Alan Kelly doesn’t really give a fuck about anyone else except whoever elects him, and even then he thinks the latter are suckers. He is surely not alone on this score in the political world. It is just that not too many would be thick enough to advertise it on a billboard. Certainly not Hugh McElvaney.