How politicians helped redeem themselves by taking on the big guys

My Evening Herald article is online Here

Saturday July 23 2011

JUST by coincidence, I happened to be passing through Brussels this week.

From the window of my hotel room near the Schuman roundabout, I could both see the European Council building and hear the sirens roar as EU heads of government arrived for the emergency EU summit.

From the the TV in the background I could hear and see the continuing fallout on BBC World news from the hacking scandal, while on my laptop I read and listen to the deserved praise being heaped on the Taoiseach for his speech on the Cloyne scandal.

As these three separate news stories competed for my attention it began to dawn on me that these three very different events have a common thread: how politics can work and how politicians can make a difference when they reflect the public mood.

In the case of the News of the World hacking scandal we see the politicians finally recovering their sense of confidence and self worth and shedding their decades of deference to one media mogul.

In the European Council decision we see politicians taking bolder and coordinated actions to exert some meaningful control over Europe’s economic destiny and shunning the cautious advice of bankers or ratings agencies.

In the case of Enda Kenny’s Cloyne speech we see a political leader not just standing up to Rome, but finding his voice calmly and forcefully telling it some home truths and reminding it how much it has lost its way.


By their actions and words, across these three events, public representatives have helped redeem the profession of politics somewhat by taking on three of the most powerful interest groups: the Church, the banking sector and the media.

This is no renaissance for politics, but just a timely reminder that politics and politicians can rise above the cynical and do good.

While the common thread in the three events is the primacy of democratic politics, it is no harm to reflect on how much further Enda is along the road of telling the Church its role and place in modern society than David Cameron is in his attempt to break this news to Rupert Murdoch and News International.

Nonetheless, this should not stop us taking a leaf out of Westminster’s book and, just as the MPs did with the Murdochs, bringing senior churchmen before a public hearing of a Dail Committee to answer questions from the people’s chosen representatives.

Just over a year ago the Papal Nuncio refused to appear before a committee considering the report of the Murphy Commission.

Let us test the water now to see if the Vatican and the Nunciature think they can sustain this refusal to answer for their actions.

As Fergus Finlay said, the Taoiseach’s Cloyne speech has set the bar high.

It follows on from Brian Cowen’s hard hitting speech responding to the Ryan Report and Dermot Ahern’s declaration following the Report of the Murphy Commission that a “clerical collar will protect no criminal”.

To quote Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: “There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.”

Enda has taken that tide and the Cloyne speech will help establish a political legacy.

However, while he is entitled to enjoy the coming few weeks as the speech continues to reverberate, he should make a quick call to a certain former Taoiseach in Drumcondra to discover how quickly the sheen on his real achievements in the Good Friday Agreement can be dulled by harsh economic realities.


Enda needs to apply the same clarity of language and and certainty of approach to tackling the economy that he has found in tackling the Vatican and Catholic hierarchy.

The new measures agreed by euro leaders at the emergency EU Summit may just afford him such an opportunity — but he needs to take this particular tide soon and not squander the opportunities it affords.

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