Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Moral Civil Servant

A Moral Civil Servant, yesterdayOnce upon a time, An Spailpín Fánach had enough of his then day job. In to the boss with him to hand in his notice.

"Behave yourself, you Spailpín Fánach," said the boss, wittily. "We'd hate to lose a man of your calibre. Tell you what, not only will we give you a few pound extra in the dear old per diem, we'll sort you for the company motor as well. How about that?"

"I've never been so insulted in my life!," replied your hero. "A car? Oh, how could you! How could you? I've never been so insulted in my life! Oh boo hoo! Oh boo hoo hoo!" I then collapsed on the carpet, weeping. As you do when you're offered a raise and a bonus.

Front page news on yesterday's Irish Independent today's Irish Times is Junior Minister for Transport, Ivor Callely, whose attempt to bonus an aide to get the aide to stay has blown up in his face. So Minister Callely is now a national laughing stock (when Joan Burton is cracking good ones about you on Rodney Rice's radio show you know things are very, very bad indeed) and poor Ivor was even the lead story on last night's Nine O'Clock News.

Is it just me, or does something stink about this whole business?

Ivor Callely offering or not offering a car to someone who works for him is not news. People get cars through work all the time. Civil servants quitting is not news; civil servants quit all the time, and it doesn't make the news because it's so hard to tell that they were actually working in the first place.

What is bizarre about the Callely quittings is the high moral tone of the departing civil servant/advisor. Corrrect me if I'm wrong, but you have to beat many a bush in Ireland to find this level of probity. Ireland operates on the nod and the wink, the you know yourself basis. Any law in this country is never seen as a constraint, but as a suggestion. The speed limit is 100km per hour but sure how would anyone get anywhere then? I'll shoe it to Hell - sure aren't the guards doing the same thing? Planning permission? Sure once it's up they'll hardly come and knock it, will they? It'll be fine. Don't mind that oul' plannning permission.

And then, out of the wilderness like an Old Testament prophet, come these two civil servants who are callling on the children of Israel - or in this case, Ivor Callely alone - to repent, repent, the day of the Lord is at hand? Minister Callely must be feeling very unlucky indeed that the two civil servants with the a higher level of moral probity than St Simeon Stylites should both pitch up on his watch at the Department of Transport? How odd that they were not in the Department of Health when that big booze-up was organised for Sligo? The preaux chavaliers would hardly have stood for that.

There is no way a political advisor having his feathers ruffled by the offer of a car is front page news. The only thing we should note about this story is that Minister Callely could be as well shot of him, because any man who operates at such a level of innocence will not last jig time in political life. So why is this business dominating the news agenda?

Why don't the media concentrate on what's happening to two of their own for trying to print stories about Irish Ferries? Gerry Flynn, Industrial Correspondent of the Irish Independent, has been taken off the story for writing that Irish Ferries management were thinking about using tear gas in another industrial dispute, and Justine McCarthy, one of the best journalists in the country, has had a story spiked and her column suspended for not toe-ing a party line. Maybe that's a story there?

Or how about what's actually news in political life in this country, where Tom Gilmartin and Frank Dunlop are dueting like matched canaries at the Mahon Tribunal, explaining who was bunged and for how much so that the Liffey Valley shopping centre should be built? Why isn't that being shouted from the rooftops, instead of buried in the graveyards of the inside pages?

Instead of wondering who in the corridors of power are on the take what we, as a nation, perfer doing is getting up early to watch George Best's funeral, and then out to that very same Liffey Valley shopping centre to queue for an hour or two and then buy a hatstand in B&Q. "Nam qui dabat olimimperium, fasces, legiones, omnia, nunc secontinet atque duas tantum res anxius optat, panem et circenses." Like Juvenal's contemptuous remarks about the Romans in the first century AD, the Irish nation is happy with bread and circuses, and place absolute and uncritical trust in our betters. Go bhfoire Dia orainn, agus ár dtír bheag bhocht.