It all seems so quaint.
Caught short of cash, the minister used her government-issue bank card to buy a few things- mostly benign items like chocolate bars. As she looked a shoo-in to take over as party leader and the next prime minister of her country, the press got hold of the story. She resigned, and despite having paid back every cent, plus interest, was forced to wander the political wilderness for years- though she did go on to lead her party (if not her country), most would agree that “the Toblerone Affair” destroyed Mona Sahlin’s political career in Sweden.
As the runners and riders for the Irish general election line up at the post, I notice the miracle of political science that is Michael Lowry is once more limbering up to give Irish democracy another undeserved puck in the eye. Lowry, described in print by Fintan O’Toole as “a cheat and a liar”, is no stranger to a tribunal or a spot of tax avoidance- having allowed Ben Dunne do up his home to the tune of several hundred thousand euro, Lowry spent years trying to avoid the taxman, all the while legislating that others should do the opposite.
And his reward for his lying and cheating? A well-deserved prison sentence and a banishment from politics? A date with the Criminal Assets Bureau? Far from it. This is Ireland, and that is not the way we do things here.
Rather than banishing Lowry to the ‘Joy, the good people of Tipperary North instead gave him so many votes that he has since topped the poll in every election- a resounding endorsement of a crook if ever there was one. Instead of being behind bars for his lax attitude to tax, Lowry finds himself in the Dáil, making the very laws he seems so fond of flouting. If we want to know why the banks were allowed to get away with their actions, we’d do well to look at what our politicians have been allowed to get away with first.
Of course, there is the “good on ya, Michael!” crowd, who say they would have done the same themselves. WIth their help, Michael sees no shame in the fact that he allowed a businessman to build a west wing on his mansion- why should he, when neither the authorities or the electorate have forced him to see the error of his ways? In the meantime, Mona Sahlin reflects on the space left in the Swedish history books for the first female prime minister and silently curses her penchant for Toblerones.
Though their haste towards the exit has been unseemly, it’s actually a good thing that many in Fianna Fáil recognise that it’s the end of the road and are not standing for re-election. It means that, even in the cradle of crony capitalism, their behaviour over the last few years is neither justified nor condoned, least of all by themselves.
But as the campaign gathers pace, there are some who still believe that they had no part in our downfall, even though they served in government or cabinet. Let’s call them the “We All Partied” Party. There are some who actually believe that they acted honorably in selling out their country and their voters (if in doubt, check out the tweets of a particular loudmouth Green TD from Dublin)- first to the developers, then to the bondholders and finally to the IMF and the ECB. There are some who still operate from the standpoint that “sure everyone was doing it, so why not me?”.
In short, there are still a lot of Lowrys out there, and it’s time to show them the door if we are serious about building not just a new Ireland, but a better Ireland. Just ask Mona.