Michael D. Higgins: Galway’s Gombeen Man?
August 13, 2011 16 Comments
I received some fascinating information today concerning past misdeeds on the part of Michael D. Higgins, and have since heard the story is causing quite a stir online.
The gist of this drama is that in 1994, Michael D. Higgins faced questions in the Dáil over letters from his government department sent to constituents in Galway containing promotional material for a Labour candidate in the European Parliament elections. Higgins said that it only involved a tiny number of recipients, and was due to a clerical error. The reply from an opposing TD was that his own branch chairman got one, which would imply that it involved far more than a tiny number. Hence the question: did Higgins lie when he said it was just a clerical error and a tiny number?
There is also the related issue of Higgins sending out letters to his own constituency in which he seems to be trying to take some of the credit for their applications for housing grants having been accepted. This sounds like fairly typical gombeenism in Irish politics, something which Michael D. Higgins has strongly condemned in the past.
Here is the relevant link:
In 1994 Fine Gael TD Padraic McCormack raises a question about Labour literature turning up in envelopes from a government department that informed successful grant recipients:
Mr. McCormack: I raise a very serious abuse of his position by the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht. I hope I have done him a favour by highlighting this abuse and that the practice has now ceased. I was pleased to facilitate the Minister by agreeing to postpone the matter until he could be present.
This matter was brought to my attention by a number of alert constituents in the Gaeltacht area of west Galway.
Is é seo an saghas litir a bhfuil an tAire ag seoladh amach gach seachtain go mhuintir Gaeltacht Chonamara.
I will read a translation of the letter:
About your application for a grant under the Gaeltacht Housing Act, you will be glad to hear that a grant of £2,300 is granted in your case.
My Department will send you an official letter shortly.
McCormack then goes on to point out how Michael D Higgins had previously criticised Fianna Fáil for this practice, and highlights how this type of clientelism had been roundly condemned by Higgins himself:
The extraordinary aspect of the letter is that the Minister sent it to people who never contacted him in the first place. It is obvious he uses inside information to write to people whom he feels might be convinced he is in some way influential in getting them a grant. It is incomprehensible that he would send out in the same prepaid envelope an accompanying slip asking the people to vote for a Labour candidate in the European elections. This states “Please Vote — No. 1 GALLAGHER, Ann”. So much for the candidature of his colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of the Gaeltacht, who is also a candidate in Connacht-Ulster for the European Parliament.
It is unbelievable that the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht should engage in this and similar tactics on joining Fianna Fáil in Government. In Opposition he strongly condemned such practices and often castigated politicans engaged in lesser types of clientelism or gombeen politics. He has surpassed Fianna Fáil in his practice of attempted deception of the electorate.
Where are the ethics in government of the Labour Party? Where is the Deputy Michael D. whom we all knew, and some loved? Where is the Michael D. who wrote the pamphlet on “Clientelism in Irish Politics”? I read a copy of his booklet and it is unbelievable that one who so abhorred and condemned such practices should now become a master of the art. He should read again his own publication. I have found many suitable quotations from his work which would condemn his present pursuit of gombeenism in Irish politics. There are many notable quotations one could use from the Minister’s own publication, if time permitted. I will make it available to any interested students of political clientelism but I will quote only two small passages. On page 121 he states:
Clientelist politicians in the opinion of the author rarely objectively influence a decision. They create the illusion of assistance however.
In the last paragraph on page 138 he says:
I am convinced that the clientelist approach seriously sells as short and distracts attention from the real basis of economic exploitation, political domination and ideological manipulation in Irish society.
This flowery language is a direct quotation from The Limits of Clientelism — towards an assessment of Irish Politics by Michael D. Higgins.
Those were the days my friend, I thought they would never end. I hope I have achieved some good in correcting the Minister in the error of his ways and perhaps nipped this serious matter in the bud.
Higgins tries to offer a robust defence:
Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins): Dírim aire aird an Teachta McCormack ar an bhfeagra a thug mé sa Teach ar an ceist seo uaidh faoin ábhar chéanna ar an 26 Aibreán 1994.
As I stated then arrangements are in place in my Department whereby individuals, committees or organisations are informed of decisions in regard to grants which have been approved as a result of applications submitted by them. I have made inquiries with regard to the reference the Deputy has made to canvassing material for the European elections and I communicated this to him in the reply to his parliamentary question, which he now chooses to ignore. It appears that during Easter when I was absent from my office due to illness, a member of my staff inadvertently included in a small number of letters referring to departmental matters a canvassing card for Ann Gallagher. A small number of letters were inadvertently placed with letters addressed to members of the Labour Party and as I was absent she signed them on my behalf.
And the devastating response:
Mr. McCormack: My branch chairman got one.