The Roscommon-South Leitrim Independent TD Luke “Ming” Flanagan has done nothing illegal or unlawful in having his penalty points cancelled.
But he looks an awful hypocrite for having taken a high profile stance towards the end of 2012 on the widespread practice of Gardai cancelling penalty points racked up for motoring offences, when in 2011, he had, not one, but two sets of points cancelled himself. His explanations in the last 24 hours look contrived and false sounding. Can he really have believed that it was solely in his gift to reveal his own penalty points concession after he, and fellow TDs threatened to publish ALL such concessions last December 2012? When Deputy Flanagan apparently told Roscommon council staff that he had been “pulled” for being on his mobile phone, and that subsequently a senior council official allegedly used their influence to cancel the points, can he really have believed that this was still a private matter between himself and the Gardai?
So, Ming might be a hypocrite and made a bit of an eejit of himself during this episode, but his story has cast further light on a practice that has been the subject of 4+ month investigation by the Garda Commissioner.
Deputy Flanagan who, on two occasions, endangered himself and other road users by using his mobile phone whilst driving, escaped scot-free. But how many other serially-offending road users are getting off scot-free only to be eventually involved in serious accidents?
And last night, on the Vincent Browne show, the Fine Gael Cavan-Monaghan TD, Joe O’Reilly said “an experienced politician wouldn’t write a letter at the behest of a sergeant because you compromise yourself immediately [or the suggestion of the sergeant].” He later went on to say that someone who had penalty points cancelled in the manner that Deputy Flanagan had, could become a “prisoner” to their benefactors.
Apparently, at least 10 of the 216 sitting TDs and senators had points cancelled. So, does that mean we have at least 10 “prisoners” in the Oireachtas who might place the individual needs of their benefactors above their political duty? And what about the judges and others who have had points cancelled. Whose prisoners are they? How sound are court judgments where the judge is considering a case where the prosecution includes one of his own penalty points benefactors?
But we have a Register of Member Interests in the Oireachtas, so surely we can see on the Register under “gifts” the penalty points cancelled? Well, no we can’t – an enquiry from here this morning to the Standards in Public Office elicited the following response “”gift” means a gift of money or other property excluding a donation (within the meaning of the Electoral Act, 1997). The cancellation of penalty points is not a gift for the purposes of the Ethics Acts and therefore not a registrable interest”
Given that the Register also excludes details of indebtedness, you’d have to wonder if it is really fit for purpose at all.
What now for Ming? It was suggested by Deputy O’Reilly last night that “you couldn’t be a whistleblower and at the same time a participant in this thing” No matter how articulate or personally effective he is, it seems that the campaign would descend into farce if Deputy Flanagan continues in it, at least in a prominent role.
Deputy Flanagan hasn’t emerged well from the last few days revelations and events – he’ll bounce back though, he hasn’t done anything illegal, and if you accept Ming’s own explanation, it was his firm intention to put these matters in the public domain when they would have had maximum impact – but the spotlight focus should remain on the practice of forgiving penalty points. How many “prisoners” are there across Irish society beholden to a councilor or Garda? How many deaths are taking place on our roads because Gardai let serial offenders off scot-free.