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Hello and welcome to The Stand with Eamon Dunphy. The stand is proudly supported by Tesco at Tesco, our exclusive house for over 65 family carers and extremely medically vulnerable customers are every weekday, Monday to Friday, up to nine AM. Health care and emergency services have priority access at all other times now, more than ever, every little helps. Now, as most of you will know, the Minister of Agriculture directly has resigned from the government. He's the second minister for agriculture to resign in a matter of weeks.
And the reason he resigned is that he was a part of a group of 80 people who were guests of the Iraq Disgust Society at a function in Galway on Wednesday night. There were a number of parliamentarians there, Gerry BOTTOMLY, who's the deputy chair of the C.I.A. and also present was Seamus Wolf, former attorney general who helped to draw up the guidelines when he was the attorney general. He is now on the Supreme Court and Phil Hogan and European trade commissioner was also present at the news, has shocked people around the country who've had to limit the number of people at weddings which have been cancelled, but more profoundly, perhaps at funerals, and they weren't able to attend their loved ones.
We're joined now by CNN Chian, who is the island editor of the Irish Independent and a veteran observer of political life in this country. Finnan It's hard to think of a story that is more damaging to this country and to its parliament and than this story at this time.
Yeah, and the timing of it is is quite crucial as well. You know, this didn't happen six weeks ago and things were being eased off. It's happening now in a week where you are seeing now that the public health warnings are coming, that we are experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases and that we are going through a a scenario where we've got three counties under lockdown. Possibly one of those will continue. We've had outbreaks in direct provision centres. We've had outbreaks in meat plants, a lot of concern about the community transmission of this virus and the escalating numbers of cases.
So at the same time, you're seeing that the government is really struggling to explain not just its strategy, but just the minutiae of what can you or can you not? Do you know how many people can you have standing at a touch line for a for a a kid's football match? How many people can you have inside a theatre or a museum or a restaurant if there is or isn't the performer there? You can't have more than six members of your own family at something.
And yet, despite all of that, you had 80 of Oberly old school establishments, Political Class Ireland, attending this event. So I don't really care about what what regulations or guidelines were passed on on on Tuesday night by the cabinet. But does it really matter? The regulations that were that have been in place for almost six months now, going back to mid-March, were sufficient to ensure that an event like this and it should not have gone ahead, never mind public health, just on pure commonsense guideline perspective.
And yet you saw this this thing there at the start of society. So what is that? It's basically like a lot of people in workplaces or in the larger workplaces would have different types of of, you know, the in-house club or a bridge club. A golf club within a company or an organisation is quite common or was quite common. And probably in older times, the practices of society is basically present and past members being involved in an informal club that doesn't really have a formal status.
But yet at the same time, it carries the name of the Iraqis and they put the the official state high up on all of their literature and and logos and they up a few times of the year and play around the golf and science of art. This was their their annual shindig where they get together, play a few rounds and have a dinner afterwards. And the majority of the people attending the event. Were were former politicians going from cabinet minister, former cabinet ministers, junior ministers, TDs and senators, very few sitting members of the of the Iraqis at the moment.
So what's the picture that you're kind of getting here? Is this this view of a kind of an elite old school structure that you would expect to be in place back in the 80s, maybe even into the 90s? Certainly not something you would expect in 2020 and certainly not in the era of new politics, where Fianna Fáil in particular reduced to being kind of medium sized parties, not the dominant parties of Irish politics that were that were in power one or the other for so long.
So it's like a penny. It's not just a penny hasn't dropped here on covid-19 and what people have gone through, but that the political landscape has changed included in that attendance.
Then you go through to the guest list, apart from the farmer people who are there, you've got a cabinet minister who did a meeting on Tuesday, agreed to the new restrictions that have been brought into place. And you had attended an event like this, an eight letter, and that's why there clearly has had to to resign. And you have got the European commissioner who is is home for the summer and he's attending as a farmer. So the big question marks now raised as was at a Brussels level about what how how is he fixed in this regard?
You have a number of senators and the tarnished the has removed the party whip from three of his senators who were present at this event. And one of them, Gerry Mortimer, has also resigned as look, our vice chairman of the Senate. Then beyond that number of other people who are present, which probably gives you a kind of an indication into how Irish society and Sokolove influences work, one of whom, Seamus Wolf, the former attorney general, now sits on the Supreme Court.
Now, anybody who knows anything basic about politics and statehood in democracies will know that there is that thing in place called the separation of powers for the judiciary and the legislature supposed to be entirely separate so that that each can make decisions independently of each other.
And yet you have him attending this event now, maybe not in breach of of of any laws as such, but certainly in terms of the spirit of the role that he is supposed to carry out. Arguable whether he should or should have been attending that, albeit if he was the attorney general only up to two months ago. He's now moved on to a more elevated position. So not really an understanding of, you know, the moral, ethical and legal standards that one expects from people who are leaders within our society, either in the past or presently, because a lot of those presents find there are no longer active politicians.
There are still paid quite handsome pensions out of the state purse. They did hold positions of responsibility in the past.
One of the things we should mention, our esteemed colleague Sean O'Rourke, retired from his post in Aute, but a journalist of some distinction who was also present. I know he's a keen golfer directly and he was on the radio on Wednesday morning explaining the new guidelines, the new restrictive guidelines, and that people have had to follow. He then that went to this gathering, which would be some way. You'd have a few drinks as well. And we know in those with a few drinks and people let their guard drop, it's pretty clear also that this gathering did breach.
Guidelines to guards have now announced that they're investigating it. And there is an issue about the way this country is run. And you reflect and I think I've referred myself to the sacrifices that people are making and they are very real when it comes to funerals and weddings, for that matter. But also, there appears to be a curse on this government, doesn't Heffernan? I mean, this is the second minister for agriculture to go in a matter of weeks and also a crack that appeared earlier this week when the guidelines were announced.
Leo Varadkar, the minister, was not on the platform. Eamon Ryan was Michel Martin was at.
And it does seem that this coalition is riven with uncertainty and maybe a bit of bitterness. Well, yeah, I think you can say a government is to say when and a number of the items that happened that are outside of their control, so somebody gets ill or somebody is a family member dies or some more tragedy befalls an administration. We've seen that in the past, most notably brain people who were going through that phase and a remarkable number of years where there was a lot of personal tragedy, as well as the tragedy that was before in the country.
Yes, nationally in this case, you're actually. Are you? Well, no, you're not, cause you're just incompetent. I mean, this is these are all self inflicted woes that that they have instilled upon upon themselves. If you if you go back to the start, you know, taking an awful long time to put a government together or basically the country was playing out of demand by the most senior civil servant in the state, that there wasn't time for business as usual.
There had to be a government in place to ensure the hard decisions that had to be taken in the midst of a national crisis need to be taken. And yet it took a full four months to put that coalition together. You then had that scenario where where people were trying strops over, over, not getting jobs, not really. You know, looking at the bigger picture and saying, well, look, in the national interest, the teacher has to make these decisions and sobs and he gets he gets on people turning down roles.
You then had Barry Cowan resigning less than two weeks into the administration, again, self-inflicted because he hadn't told the teacher about a drink driving offence that he had a number of years previously in terms of their management of the coronavirus crisis. There was a template in place. You you make collaborative decisions between the public health experts and the government, and you didn't communicate them clearly. That was established under the definition of a caretaker government and they did retain support of the public as a result of that.
That system seems to have entirely broken down now under the new administration where we're basically, as you say, you've got an awful lot of finger sniping at each other. You've got the manner in which Millmerran is managing this quite questionable in terms of not really a kind of a lack of coordination, both with the public health experts in terms of talking truth, what what did they feel was necessary and what do you feel as a as a politician that the that the public can handle on on on a parallel to that is communication process with its coalition partners.
And Finegan also seems to be off. So there are there are actually just basic organisational and structural problems there within the government itself before you get towards communicating with the public at all. And you've you've seen again what was a very simple formula. Draw up the ten points you have to say. I just keep reiterating them to the public. You've now got a clever little ministers like Stephen Donnelly who thinks he knows better than everybody else and kind of preaching to people as though they're stupid about how getting on a trampoline is as much of a risk as a global pandemic.
And really, people looking at him going, what are you talking about? And why is David Brent from the now foreign minister for Minister for Health?
So you are you're dealing with those fundamental issues which basically from start to finish, there are problems. It's not that there is an isolated incident within the administration of government that you can point to. Doctors do not have. We just have a little bit of a communications problem there. We need to sharpen that up a wee bit and we'll be grand. This is repeatedly happening right across the board. You had a situation this week where the Department of Tourism, Department of Treasury and Department of Health and the agency were having different interpretations themselves of the guidelines.
Yes. So you're looking at gone, Joe Public doesn't really care what department is involved. You're all the government. You're the government. You say what the position is and you ask people to adhere to that. And if they don't adhere to it, you outline what the penalties are. If you have individual government departments interpreting regulations in a different manner to each other, well, then what chance to do to do the public at large have? And that's the problem that Myanmar has now got.
It is that incoherence that he has got at the heart of his government is now filtering through to the public. Yes.
And we don't want to be too pious, are too intolerant, which is tempting at a moment like this. But there is an international crisis there. Certainly we're living through a national crisis and ordinary people with their jobs, their businesses, with their inability to get married or to bury their dead. As they would wish to, it is a very serious moment, and yet 80 of these people turn up, there is a feeling, is there not, that they are leaking authority, they are arrogant, and they feel that the rules that they have drafted do not apply to them.
And when you get to that stage in a democracy, in an open democracy, you are at an important point, are you not, particularly with people like Phil Hogan directly or a cabinet minister and Seamus Wolf, who's going to sit on the Supreme Court? Does he have the judgment? Our one wonders if he can go to an event like that. And as attorney general, he was the person who was and making sure these guidelines were legal.
Yeah. And there's often an accusation directed towards politicians that they are out of touch, that they're in power for for too long. They don't know that they have an inability to read the public mood and that these guys are only in power for two months now. Finding the girl. I've been there a lot longer that put in a file on the Green Party, have been out of power for the last nine years and only back in. So you can't claim that, you know, they've had the their backside in a ministerial Mercedes for so long that they don't know how many people feel anymore that that doesn't really apply here.
So you are actually just looking at their their basic competence to to start with. And and that then feeds into it from the judgement on the on the issues and the issues that they are undertaking. So their problem now is at a crucial time for the country when at the very time you need the support of the public and public and and stays working people instead of working hand in hand, you're now seeing a situation where the public is losing confidence in this government's ability to govern and to guide people on it on a daily basis, because really what we saw in the first few months of the coronaviruses crisis that people will respond to leadership if they get a firm direction and they are told these are the rules, you have to obey them and it's in everybody's collective interest.
The most people will will go along with that. The ordinary decent citizens will say, OK, look, I need to accept some level of personal responsibility here. When they see those in power not accepting that level of responsibility, then they say, well, no, I just did it here. Going along with this unfortunate we have seen this in the past, in the very recent past, a decade ago, in the early stages of the the economic crisis, we did see that there was a good positive response from the public.
In fact, the government's satisfaction ratings were going up in the early stages, as people see right. There's a crisis here. It's on an international level. Yes, there are distinct domestic elements to it. But here is a government that is taking decisions and and there and taken in the best interests of the country. And we will go along. We will support them. That all fell apart as soon as people saw, well, the decisions have gone wrong and B, the rules and regulations and the great Irish expression of horror on the theatre that the fair play.
But if people weren't being treated in the same manner, there seemed to be one law for four people at the top in terms of protection of their their jobs and their pensions. And people on the ground were suffering and experiencing a very different kind of crisis. So we are kind of at that tipping point now where you can basically see a scenario developing where people are going to go all the restrictions. I don't see why they should apply to me if they don't apply to people at the top of the table, because the government's difficulty now is because you had a cabinet minister sitting there and you had elected representatives from both of the main government parties present at that event.
People will see this as a signal that there's a culture there at the top, that the game, the rules of the game don't apply to them.
OK, I just want to ask you one final question and fit. And it's about the cabinet meeting at which the new measures were decided. It is understood to have been robust and possibly there was a dispute between Leo Varadkar, Mr. And Michel Martin and and it wasn't plain sailing. And is this government sustainable? It's the last time we spoke you you reminded us that there's a budget due in October and that may well be a moment of truth. But is this a present arrangement sustainable if there's an estrangement between the minister and his faction and the teacher and his faction?
Yeah, you'd say it in. In. This case, Leo Varadkar, made it quite public within the cabinet that he was he was dissatisfied and we're being told that all well, Leon Mihajlo name and Ryan do sit down there to hammer out all the difficulties. Then there's no Rollo's at cabinet. In this case, it was quite clearly Arikawa believed there's a clear procedure in place here. You have a Cabinet subcommittee that has a discussion about any measures that are coming forward in the public health crisis.
They make an informed decision there and then you bring it to cabinet and find there is a wider discussion. But maybe you will change little bits and pieces. But as a result of that, water conservation, but largely speaking, you know, the breadth of the decision that that you have to take on, all three parties are on board. The Rakers position due today was made on merit. And that bypass that he had gone straight from what the public health official said, true to the cabinet level.
So all of the issues were being thrashed out there. Again, tried and true as the procedure was in place behind marriage and decided to stray from that. And the overall economy is his view is quite, quite well known here. He is asserting his authority as a Tanisha. He's making it quite clear that he's not just some junior coalition partner who's going to be sitting in the corner. He's going to be a guy who is is representing his party's view and their status within government.
And this was another example of that. So it did indicate quite clearly that there was a fragmentation in that relationship because what we were seeing previously from the Tory party leaders was an element of discipline. They have gone through a number of controversies over over recent months, just a couple of weeks ago, to two Green Party TDs, including a junior minister and not supporting government legislation. Again, the tightrope between them, the Barry Cowen controversy, which which went on for 10 days again to keep that they kept that very much in between the treatment as that was was progressing along and it was discomfort being expressed, but it has been done privately in this case.
I know you're going to say that. Well, there's a 30 year rule and the cabinet meetings, what's out of them is supposed to be entirely confidential. Unfortunately, under a serious and Finian McGrath and the last administration, they effectively became open town hall meeting 12 years ago. When Leo spoke the other day, it was quite clear that he was sending a message out wider within the political and public domain. Yes, internally, within the cabinet itself and directly to me, all-American, that he is not going to tolerate being treated in that manner and kind of been left out of the loop.
So that's that's it's an interesting matter that he has sat down now and it may all American chooses to stray from that kind of more consultative pat into the future. Well, then he's going to run into difficulties with the environment because we can't to micromanage everything. And he he did develop a reputation as being, of all these people, an awful lot of the decisions close to his chest, not a whole lot of consultation or wide ranging discussion amongst the frontbench.
So if he has this view as as PM once enunciators for Charlie High, that it was going to do to an abortion, that if you are the TGA, you're the guy at the top and you're going to make the decisions and to hell with what anybody else thinks. That's not going to work for me. Paul Martin with the door in one way. We started out this conversation talking about how some people think the old school rules still apply here in another way and how this government has to operate.
It is very much there. There is a new way of doing business and everybody's going to have to adapt to it.
OK, we're very grateful to you for Nancie. And Finnane is the Ireland editor of the Irish Independent. Thanks to Phonon.
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