From little corrupt acts do big corrupt acts grow?

There is a fantastic story in today's Irish Times, one that I highly recommend you read. Basically, it's a story from the 1960s about an Irish missionary priest, a bottle of poitín (Irish moonshine), an elected member of the Dáil (parliament) and the gardaí (Irish police force).

As I read the story I realized that what I really enjoyed about it was the familiarity of it. Yes because it spoke volumes to a simpler, more stereotyped, and probably more enjoyable Ireland, but also because the story could easily have originated in New York or Boston or Philadelphia or Baltimore or Albany or wherever. Spencer Tracy's character in the Last Hurrah could have acted in exactly the same manner as this Irish politician (father of Prime Minister Enda Kenny, Henry Kenny).

It's a cute story of a bit of harmless corruption. You would have to be an anti-corruption zealot to be offended by the story.

Yet as I read the story in the same paper that today has pages dedicated to yesterday's publication of a report into corrupt dealings between politicians and businessmen I wondered if the bloodthirsty jail-is-too-good-for-them crowd would find the story amusing. There seems to be zero tolerance for corruption in Ireland today.

Maybe the zealots are right? Maybe tolerating these little incidents gradually escalates into the sort of corruption detailed in yesterday's report or other tribunals into misdeeds by politicians and the gardaí?

Does it start with a politician procuring a bottle of moonshine from the police for a missionary priest which morphs into jobs for the boys from the neighborhood which morphs into mobile phone licenses for the boys with the checkbooks, with a little kickback for the politician(s) making the decision? I don't know. The first case seems harmless, the second is legally dubious and possibly immoral, and the latter is plainly 100% wrong.

Today Twitter is aflame with calls for the columnist Sarah Carey to be dismissed by the Irish Times because she admitted lying to the Moriarty Tribunal about leaking material from the Tribunal to the press. Carey says there were many leaks and thought she was acting the public good. She later admitted to the Tribunal that she had lied earlier while testifying.

She leaked; she lied; she owned up. I can probably live with that. Maybe it's just that I'm older than most of those calling for blood on Twitter, but I'm more than willing to forgive Carey this transgression. Judge Moriarty said she was one of the few to own up to leaking, although that didn't change the fact that what she did was "irresponsible, in flagrant breach of the course of dealings that had been clearly conveyed to her."

She did wrong, but I don't think she should lose her job. I see her crime as closer to getting poitín for the priest than getting a big check in your back pocket for abusing public office.

{Photo: a poitín still from MuseumsOfMayo.com.}

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