Commissions perfect for kicking cans down the road

Michael Noonan...flinty and unflinching.
Michael Noonan...flinty and unflinching.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

ACommission of Investigation into the Project Eagle debacle would bring to 16 the number of commissions or inquiries or investigations ongoing at present – and that’s a sign of the fickle nature of this government.

Because every time it seems a controversy comes into the public realm, the politicians – populist animals that they are – kick the can down the road with some form of an ‘independent inquiry’.

It’s not just the politicians. The public thirst for them as well.

It all seems so neat; a commission or tribunal that will take the matter out of the hands of the executive or the Gardaí. And it is all very neat until you realise that often-times it will be many years before it reaches its conclusion.

By then events have moved on or the common memory is not so strong anymore and not too many people care too much anymore.

I’m not against commissions per se. It would be hard to argue against one in the ‘Grace’ case for example, where one family fostered 46 children over the years despite there being question marks over abuse.

But very often, such independent investigations take years to complete their work, are too limited or too broad in scope, and often cannot reach definitive conclusions, especially where there are conflicts of evidence.

I’d have an issue for an example with the decision to launch a full Tribunal of Inquiry into the Maurice McCabe smear allegations. I don’t for a second quibble with the reasons for a public inquiry.

But a Tribunal? Years and years. Millions of euro. And a report that will have no current relevance, as all the protagonists will have long moved on.

Ah, you say, but what about McCracken? Yes McCracken worked. That was a Tribunal in 1995 that looked into whether or not Charlie Haughey received a million pounds from Ben Dunne. It finished its work within a year. That was because the terms of reference were very narrow indeed and the question was a single one, essentially.

With McCabe, it’s going to take longer. The terms of reference have already been widened and there are lots of people against whom allegations have been made, or whose evidence is material to the Tribunal.

Each of them is entitled to legal representation. Viewed at from this vantage, I would wager that a few will take the Tribunal to the High Court to challenge its findings.

Now we have Project Eagle being put to a Commission. I believe this will be an exercise in duplication. What more will be revealed that has been unearthed by the Public Accounts Committee.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.