Belfast Telegraph

Fianna Fail reform must start with change of leader

By Bruce Arnold

Bertie Ahern has saved Micheal Martin further embarrassment and has given Fianna Fail the opportunity to shut up about him.

Since the release of the Mahon Report last week, divisive harm was done by party members from the leader down. Martin placed major blame on Ahern.

But there were no commitments either to expunge the guilt that hangs like a black cloud over Fianna Fail, or to support a comprehensive programme of change to eliminate corruption.

By jumping in with a precipitate move against Ahern, Martin added further to the mistakes of his short leadership period, consistently showing lack of judgment, as well as little skill. Fianna Fail still faces the palpable public tidal wave of resentment at the dishonesty of Ahern and others.

Even so, his fault was dishonesty - not corruption. His short-term difficulties need to be taken in context with his remarkable performance as party leader and his Northern Ireland achievements.

In the negative side is his present disgrace. Ahern's formal standing in Irish life, therefore, is an amalgamation of the good and bad. It would seem that Martin's motivation in seeking his expulsion from Fianna Fail is to sweep him and all he stood for under the carpet - a cynical move and not one based on fair judgment.

The Mahon Report message to Fianna Fail is that the culture of corruption was predominantly invented, developed and run by the Fianna Fail organisation in the country. It was part of the much wider pursuit of political patronage - and the corruption that goes hand-in-hand with it. This overall judgment demands from Fianna Fail an entirely different approach from that of Martin - who should now resign. Someone in Fianna Fail needs to address the future in an open, honest and courageous way.

Fianna Fail needs a leader who can engage in the substantial reform of corruption and ethics legislation, of local government practices, stricter conditions for local and national politicians and the internal reform of the party organisation.

No organisation in the Republic knows better than Fianna Fail what was done in the past. Fianna Fail members have been skillful architects, over decades, of the fetid underbelly of political graft and corruption. They could play a vital part in its reform. It will not happen under Michael Martin.

Had he expressed understanding about how much the party he leads is reviled for its present public record, he would have seen how absurd was his decision to lay all the blame on the shoulders of Ahern,

For Fianna Fail to win back political and moral integrity, the party has to be led by someone who knows what that means - someone not tainted by the standards of previous party leaders, Ahern, Albert Reynolds and Charles Haughey. The party stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind these men and the political culture they controlled.

Micheal Martin was as solid as the rest, helping to keep it all rolling along. Nothing that Martin has said, or done, as leader, over the past 15 months, indicates any fundamental change of heart.

And nothing said by anyone else in the party has done that, either.

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