De man who put the D (for duplicity) in Drumcondra
He might sound funny, with his quaint Nortside blas, but as Charlie Haughey once described him "He's the most clever, the most cunning, the most devious of them all". De Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern has been up to his own style of duplicity again this week.
Having successfully deflected recent accusations of improper conduct in accepting a financial dig-out from his mates while he was Minister of Finance back in the day, Bertie managed to pull off another victory for his particular brand of Drumcondra double-speak this week. In a response to questions in the Dail regarding the case of Louise O'Keeffe (more of her later) he managed to mislead (a euphemism for baldly lie to) the house on no less than 3 occasions.
Ms O'Keeffe is currently being pursued for court costs of half a million Euro resulting from her failed attempt to sue the state for the systematic sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her teacher in a Cork primary school in the 1970s. The High Court found that the state was not responsible for the actions of her teacher and awarded costs against her. The 300,000 Euro she won in an action taken against her abuser was effectively a 'paper award' since he has no resources to pay her. Unfortunately, for Ms O'Keeffe, the same is not the true of her situation vis-a-vis the state. She could lose her house.
Ever de man of de people, champeen of de plain folk of Oirland, and de country's last socialist (someone inform Joe Higgins of his own demise, please) Bertie assured the Dail that there was no question of Ms O'Keeffe having to sell her home to pay the costs of the case. Well no question right now since there is a stay on costs pending her appeal to the Supreme court. If I was her I'd start planning to move my assets somewhere warmer. The Cayman Isles is an old favourite amongst the fiscal cognoscenti in these parts.
But back to Bertie's weasel words.
A couple of years ago the Government negotiated a deal with the Catholic church to cap the congegations' liabilities for compensation in the thousands of cases of abuse suffered by children placed in institutions under their control. The Church's liability was limited to 128 million Euro.
How this figure was arrived at I'm not quite sure, but I think the formula might have been based on the following principle: What's the least we can get away paying without looking like begrudgers and still keep a few bob in the kitty for the robes and the incense and the odd trip to the Vatican,lads? 128 miliion? Not a bother. God bless you, my son and have an indulgence. You'll need it later for shaking on this deal.
Current costs of compensation are now up to 1.3 billion Euro (the price of a couple of LUAS systems, one and a half Dublin port tunnels, or 10 percent of this year's health spend). They are likely to rise further because only about half of people eligible have applied under the compensation scheme. Meanwhile the clerical cashbox has coughed up as much as it ever will. An amount, ironically, almost precisely a tithe of the present bill.
Now I'm not suggesting that any other administration would have handled it differently. The fact is it probably wouldn't. Despite the current rush to secularisation in Ireland, the gap between Church and the minds of the current generation of politicians isn't that wide. The waters might be a bit choppy these days, but the alliance between priesteens and politicians which has guided the ship of state since the establishment of the Free State still has a hand on the tiller to a large extent.
This week in the Dail, Bertie defended the arrangement on the grounds that the Church couldn't afford anymore. He couldn't possibly know that because no-one ever asked the brothers in black what they were worth. This is what us plain folk call a porky pie, a whopper, a huge big fib, a lie.
Pausing only to extinguish his trousers, he then went to suggest that the precise cost of compensation couldn't be calculated because no-one knew how many people had been in these institutions of abuse. This was another porky. Precise details of the fees paid to the religious orders for the upkeep of their unfortunate victims have been maintained since the 1930s. Unless, of course, he's suggesting that the orders were guilty of padding the numbers in their flocks like a Monaghan sheep farmer come EU subsidy time.
Finally, he stated that the State would have been jointly liable for compensation had cases come to court. This is opposed to being 90 percent liable as it seems to be at present. Not only is this a poor defence of the arrangement, it's patently untrue. A decision in 2003 found that the State was not liable because it merely paid the bills and didn't manage the schools.
I wonder how many people in currently jail for hiring a contract killer wished they'd been up before a beak like the one that thunk that defence up. The irony is that Ms O'Keefe is living in fear of homelessness precisely because this judgment was applied in her case against the State.
Apart from me and Mary Raftery in yesterday's Irish Times, no-one seems to be making much of a fuss about this. It speaks volumes for the standard of politician we get in this country. I don't wonder how they can't sleep at night. It's because they do all their dozing in the Dail.