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1 November 2007 Edition

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Civil Service conspiracy theory : Don't let politicians off the hook

Noel Dempsey

Noel Dempsey

Yes Minister, No Frank!

By Mícheál MacDonncha

I was incredulous when I read Frank Farrell’s Media View (An Phoblacht 25/10/07). Of all Ministers, Frank attempts to absolve Noel Dempsey as Minister for Transport from his responsibility for the ending of the Aer Lingus Shannon-Heathrow service. Whatever about who knew what and when the fact remains that Noel Dempsey has for a decade been a member of a Cabinet that planned and completed the disgraceful privatisation of the national airline, Aer Lingus. Yet the word privatisation was not mentioned once in Frank’s article. Without the sell-off of the airline the decision in question would never have been made.
It is deeply ironic that Frank should choose Noel Dempsey to exonerate and to illustrate his theory that it is civil servants who make the big decisions. As Minister for the Environment and Local Government Noel Dempsey brought in a raft of legislation which took power away from elected members of local authorities, including powers in relation to waste management. This smoothed the way for the imposition of bin charges and the privatisation of waste services. Under Dempsey the powers of unelected County and City managers were greatly increased and local democracy was eroded.
This, of course, is also the Government which established the Health Service Executive. This has drastically reduced the accountability of the Government to the Oireachtas for its reactionary health policies and its gross mismanagement of our health services. Not only can the Taoiseach now find cover behind Health Minister Mary Harney but they can both hide behind the massive bureaucracy of the HSE, headed by Professor Brendan Drumm.
Not content with minimising the responsibility of today’s Government for their actions, Frank makes the outrageous claim that “many of the most important decisions in modern Irish history have been taken by civil servants rather than politicians”. He goes on to cite the Arms Crisis of 1969/70. Without going into the detail of that saga it has to be said that it is preposterous to place all the blame on the reactionary Department of Justice official Peter Berry. Not for nothing did the then Taoiseach earn the title ‘Union Jack’ Lynch from republicans. Did his Minister for Justice Dessie O’Malley need Peter Berry to convince him to pursue his vendetta against republicans? Did Jack and Dessie’s successors in the Cosgrave Coalition need such encouragement?
Of course there are many powerful conservatives in the senior civil service. But it is also true that civil servants can sometimes curb the reactionary excesses of ministers. And even if Frank’s theory were true, surely that makes the politicians even more culpable because they would be shirking the democratic responsibility entrusted to them by the people.
Frank’s civil service conspiracy theory suits the powerful politicians who have governed the 26 Counties for decades. It conceals their direct responsibility for key decisions and republicans should never let them off the hook in this way.

An Phoblacht Magazine


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