Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Minister, the Judge and the Tribunal

The commentary of Michael McDowell and the various other political statements on the Mahon Tribunal does not necessarily cross the line of separation of powers. Though Tribunals are imbued with powers similar to the High Court they are nevertheless a creation of the government and they in turn are entitled to monitor the work of the Tribunal and do have the legislative power to bring them to an end. However this past weeks war of words does smack of exploitation of a sensitive nerve for the public for political expediency.

The issue of solicitors exorbitant rate of pay and the glacial rate of progress in Tribunal hearings has been at issue since The Beef Tribunal. A right of appeal and the protection of individual rights before such Tribunals is imperative to ensuring justice is a part of the Tribunal system so put simply delay is a necessary evil in ensuring we can stand by the outcome of any findings. Oireachtas committees and inquiries held abroad such as the Scott Inquiry in the UK have been outright failures, contested and produce little satisfactory results. Though there are few high profile outcomes from the spate of Tribunals established during the 1990s the fact is that political lobbying has been revolutionised. I won’t rush to saying it has had results, I remember attending a conference where Marion Harkin bemusedly contributed that the practice of paying for planning permission is a national problem and goes on to this day in her constituency and others in the West of the country and the only reason a fuss has been made of the corruption in Dublin, is well because its Dublin. I would stand by Tribunals as the best mechanism to investigate matters of urgent public concern however there is certainly cause for reappraising how Tribunals are run and clear identifiable methods of taking the findings of Tribunal reports and learning a lesson from them. This would certainly allieve public frustration with what seem to be ballooning bureaucratic mazes that seem ultimately to serve little purpose.

It is absolutely of no value to begin criticising the possible cost of a Tribunal and suggest its termination in its 9th year. To have progressed so far and not see it to a proper end would be more of a waste than any other course of action. Not that McDowell has stuck to his guns, he has conceded that the final cost could be closer to the estimate suggested by Judge Mahon, admitting that no one could read the future. Where then did the impetus come from for the original statement? Did the Auditor General present a projection or did a member of the ESRI research the potential cost? – No. It seems he has plucked the figure out of the air and while no one was actually shocked initially that a Tribunal could run to such expense it was absolutely ridiculed by the person who could most ably make such a suggestion – the Tribunals chairman – stating that he felt a figure 700 m less would be more realistic.

Obviously the opposition have played the political manouever card, an option very easily embraced by the public. It’s difficult to swallow though. Only today did the PD’s rebuke the rumblings of the Fine Fail backbencers, which previously brought Mc Dowell’s CafĂ© Bar Licence initiative to an end so then it seems difficult to understand why McDowell would go out on a limb and try to set the ball rolling on bringing the Tribunal to an end so as to avoid any embarassment for Fine Fail in the next module’s hearings. Maybe I am too naive and conflicting with the backbenchers is small fish conflict and McDowell has a more long term game and is speaking out so as to ensure he has partners for a coalition next June. Maybe it was purely rummaging around in the attic of sore points and deciding to make a statement to ensure some pre-publicity for this weekend’s Ard Fheis. There is no denying there was no lead in or pretext to bringing up the Tribunal’s cost, yet bringing it up must have had some purpose. And to tail end the statement with the view that the money could be better spent on education or hospital beds is farcical and an insult to the intelligence of every person in this country. A lack of money has never been the problem with how major services are run, to try and turn the issue into an ‘I care about you all’ type statement is rubbish.

So with around 12 weeks to go this is the type of well though out, issue driven electioneering we can expect. McDowell is better than this, why he is going for unnecessary tabloid type exaggeration is a sad testament to the nature of politics in Ireland.


Cllr Keith Martin said...

McDowell isn't better than this.

This is what he is, an opportunist.

Now, facing obliteration, he is grasping at straws.

Anonymous said...

The greatest myth of all is that McDowell is an intelligent man. Lots of people, even those that don't agree with his politics, have this strange respect for him because he's a barrister. He carries off the illusion well, but he's actually more limited than most people give him credit for.

Ironically, I think that lawyers are among the least suited professionals to act as Minister for Justice.