Cosy consensus leaves whistleblowers out in the cold


You never know when you’ve got a national scandal on your hands until it’s blown up completely.

Someone should have warned Alan Shatter about this about a year ago, round about the time he stood up in the Dáil and repeated an allegation about Deputy Mick Wallace that he’d heard from the Garda Commissioner as if it were idle gossip.

It’s usually only afterwards that the magnitude of a scandal – GUBU, Garglegate, Bertie’s whip-round – becomes truly apparent. However, the rolling revelations about the Gardaí, the Minister and the mounting number of questions none of them want answered, are mark this issue out as one of the big ones.

The latest revelation – that the office of the Garda Siochána Ombudsman Commission (the folks charged with watching the watchers) was bugged – has all the makings of a classic spy story.

Insomnia cafe owner Bobby Kerr, whose nearby coffee shop was blamed for an intrusive Wifi signal by journalists and politicians (who really should find out more about ‘the Internet’ before commenting), said on radio yesterday that he feels like he’s in the John LeCarré novel, the spy who came in from the cold.

But it’s the manner in which the public learned of the investigation of same, the Minister’s attempt to downplay it and to undermine GSOC in the Dáil, and the frankly bizarre coverage of this in some news outlets, that hints that there is something far more rotten going on.

Because it’s not the still unidentified spies who are out in the cold; it’s the whistleblowers who are the reason the series of recent Garda-related stories have come out, who have been left vulnerable.

Yesterday, it was announced that the Garda confidential recipient Oliver Connolly, who is the go-to guy for whistleblowers, had been sacked by Minister Shatter. This comes not long after Micheál Martin read into the Dáil record the transcript of a conversation between the confidential recipient, and one of the whistleblowers who revealed the wiping of penalty points for influential people.

Contained within that transcript was the soon to be infamous line, “if Shatter thinks you’re screwing him, you’re finished”.

One of the things Ireland is famous for is its size and the way in which the rule of six degrees of separation becomes more like two. But the same closeness that creates the warmth strangers remark upon, and the apparent friendliness with which we greet each other (you never do know if that person you passed on the street is your second cousin) is also responsible for some of the greatest catastrophes in Irish history.

The biggest such catastrophe in our recent history was the banking crash. The Nyberg report into Ireland’s crash pointed out that the level of groupthink in Irish business and political circles was one of the biggest factors in what happened to our financial system. Nobody was willing to shout stop, because it would ruin the cosy consensus at the top.

The revelation of widespread abuse of the penalty points system also threatened to ruin the cosy consensus at the top of Irish society. So far, all Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has done about that is suggest that the whistleblowers are a disgrace.

So this is what happens when somebody does shout stop. The system closes in, politicians and large swathes of the media rush to muddy the waters by incriminating them or fudging the issue, and eventually, the theory is, the public gets so bored of it that it just goes away.

With Fianna Fáil finally finding their feet in Opposition with this issue, it looks like it won’t just “go away”. But for any other potential whistleblowers who find their conscience troubled and feel like doing a public service, the message is pretty clear. Don’t.

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