Sparrow farts and scandals

On the Edge

COVER-UP COCK-UP The cover-up has been worse than the scandal itself. Pic: Flickr.com/Chatham House

On The Edge
Áine Ryan

I must say I much prefer the Golfgate scandal over the latest Merriongate shenanigans. As we all know at this stage, it is over the aborted appointment of former Independent Minister Katherine Zappone as an Irish Government Special Envoy for Freedom of Expression and Human Rights (with a focus on LGBT).
I love the fact that Irish Times writer Fintan O’Toole has likened the scandal to ‘a sparrow fart’.  
First things first though, isn’t it past time to forgive Deputy Dara Calleary for attending that ill-fated dinner in Clifden last August? He was an honourable knight and fell on his sword so quickly the media monsters hardly had time to lick their lips or sharpen their quills.
Meanwhile, this summer’s silly season story rumbles on more limply than a county councillor rambling on in Áras an Chontae for two hours about the size of potholes on a grassy boreen in west Mayo.
I don’t know why I always assumed that Simon Coveney was squeaky clean and that Munster butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. Maybe it was because he likes to explain things in minuscule detail, unlike Master Leo and his clever sound-bytes.
Yes, we are all too familiar with the statistical relationship between the length of politicians necks and their tenure in the houses of the Oireachtas. But why didn’t Simon The Good just put his hands up at the very beginning and say he had a few off-the-record chats – well, texts – with Ms Zappone, who supported the minority Fine Gael government in the last Dáil?
By the way, since she has moved back to her native US and now lives in a plush apartment in Manhattan, a UN job would have been very convenient.
Anyway, as we all know by now, Saint Simon’s obfuscations over this sequence of texts regarding a makey-uppey appointment for her at the UN has culminated in him being grilled before an Oireachtas Committee. Not once, but twice.
The communications between the two of them have proven to be embarrassing. It seems he did not adhere to due process about such appointments and, moreover, failed to inform the leaders of the other coalition parties about the proposal. It was, instead, presented as a fait accompli at a Cabinet meeting earlier in the summer.
Inconveniently, some Freedom of Information requests by the media led to it all going belly-up in the end.
We all know only too well that our political system is underpinned by clientelism and cronyism.
As O’Toole writes: “The attempt to appoint Zappone without any due process or transparency was bad. It is important that it was called out. But it made those of us who have been writing for decades about Irish political shenanigans feel like Vietnam vets: you weren’t there, man, for Charlie Haughey stealing the money raised for Brian Lenihan’s liver operation, or Michael Lowry’s awarding of the second mobile phone licence, or Bertie Ahern’s dig-outs.”
A sparrow fart, but not exactly ‘a stroke’ that will make the cut in any upcoming anthology of strokes in Irish politics.
Hilariously, O’Toole observes: “Dealing with it should have been crisis management 101: tell the truth, say you’re sorry, act humble for a few weeks, move on. A firm of political handlers would have given it to an intern as work experience.”
He argues that in the history of scandals, the cover-up can often be worse than the scandal itself, and here we have a case in point. What it has exposed, however, is ‘a jungle of evasions and high-handed disdain’.
Again, isn’t that the nub of the problem with any elite who is in power – whether politically or economically – for too long?
Of course, the farce wasn’t helped by the bould Zappone holding a going-away bash in the plush Merrion Hotel, attended by Leo, on July 21. Revelations about the event put the spotlight back on her appointment. It was attended by 50 guests and complied with Covid restrictions, according to the organisers.
Six days later it was leaked that Taoiseach Micheál Martin was not made aware of the appointment before a Cabinet meeting on July 27.
Honestly, all we can do is roll our eyes up and down and over and back. Will they ever learn?

3011 MPU