Dr James Reilly

Reasoned, insightful political debate is being overthrown by mob-rule. But he who shouts loudest is not always right, writes Paul Allen

The country is once again in the grip of the ‘politics of the angry.’

Indeed, even as Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore declared confidence in Minister Dr James Reilly, the smell of blood is in the air as people cry for another political scalp.

It is the era of the loudmouth where the ‘politics of anger’ shouts down the ‘politics of the answer’.

But with the heat being turned up on the Minister of Health we would do well to remember in any sport it is easy to shout from the sidelines. And it is no different when it comes to the greatest, the dirtiest and most gruelling sport of them all — politics.

The former GP, who was listed in Stubbs Gazette over an unpaid €1.8m debt, says he did not break any rules. Indeed, he set up his business affairs when he became Minister in line with advice from the Standards in Public Office Commission.

While there are obvious questions arising from the affair, if the Minister is found to have followed the rules, then blame the game not the player.

While the Committee on Procedure and Privileges (CPP) is still yet to start probing the propriety of the political classes, the need for such rigorous referees to ensure fair play in politics has once again been highlighted.

But the illusion that it is only the members of the main political parties that need this type of supervision has been recently shattered.

For years the members of the holier-than-thou Technical Group have been taking swipes at the mainstream parties, attacking their ethical records and constantly questioning their integrity. And, sometimes, rightly so; every parliament and political party needs to be held accountable.

But when the deeds of master tax cheat Mick Wallace finally made the headlines, it became obvious that cheating the system is not only in the gift of those belonging to Fianna Fail or Fine Gael.

The Independent Wexford TD has now refused to answer several questions from the Members' Interests Committee regarding the matter, casting an even longer shadow on his deeds.

However, while Wallace’s credibility rapidly crumbles, so does that of Socialist Party TDs Clare Daly and Joe Higgins, along with United Left Alliance TD Joan Collins after being found to have used their travel allowances to attend anti-household charge meetings outside their constituencies.

How can elected representatives spend public money trying to encourage people to break the law?

You would imagine that if one of the main political parties was found to have engaged in such highly questionable behaviour (to put the most positive spin possible on the actions of Daly, Higgins and Collins), the backlash would have been swift.

The fact is these members of the Technical Group have shown by their actions that while they might have been viewed as champions of the people, they are just as flawed as many of those they have berated over the years.

Pointing the finger of blame is easy, but holding a mirror up to your own actions can bring home many unwanted truths.

It would be amusing to think that the biggest impact these politicians who wanted to shake things up in Dáil Éireann will have made is underlining that even those with seemingly irreproachable reputations can fall foul of the high standards in political life.

Just like goal line technology will help referees and linesmen tighten up on the proper and correct regulation of soccer, the Irish political system will hopefully receive closer scrutiny from its new investigation committee.

So rather than having mob rule crying for heads to roll every time questions are raised over the activities of a politician, calm and reasoned insight will allow all to clearly see and assess if rules were broken. This will improve politics for all and make our system even more transparent. Because when it comes to playing dirty, being a member of a major political party is not a prerequisite.

*Paul Allen is Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR