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June 2019
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2012-11 Accountability

James column for the Sligo Weekender

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but when I was at school I was always taught that we should be accountable for our actions. If a child did something wrong corporal punishment may have been administered. When that form of punishment was mercifully abolished the penalty usually came in the form of `lines', detention, suspension or expulsion.

However it appears that in the 21st century - Ireland doesn't seem to `do' accountability. Or is it a worldwide thing? Our culture of accountability and being responsible for our actions (and/or inactions) is unquestionably weak and at times non-existent. What sort of screwed-up-signal does that send to today's children? Behave while you're in the classroom : when you leave school do as you please.

Perhaps it's the years our country spent on their knees repenting and in confession boxes, believing that a few `decades' and `Our Fathers' would see us right and eradicate our sin-debt, so we could `trespass' anew. If poor decisions are made in business, politics, hospitals, education, the construction industry, the church, especially when dealing with society's most vulnerable, then surely there just has to be accountability.

I bought my house at the height of the boom : eight years on it's worth less than I paid for it. I took a risk, the risk back-fired, and now I'm (literally) paying the price. I'm not getting away with it. No debt forgiveness here. Surely the only difference between me and the Seán Quinns and Seán Fitzpatricks of this world is that their debts are on a significantly larger scale. If Seán Quinn simply admitted defeat, held his hands in the air, smiled sheepishly and forced a "Sorry" through gritted teeth, then attempted to rebuild his empire from scratch  wouldn't we all be 100% supportive of him and his inspirational efforts? But instead we hear about his son in contempt of court, evasion of authority, protests, and ¬100,000 wedding cakes.
I agree with Gandhi when he said "It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of ones acts".

And what of the recent Dáil administrations? Why have cheats such as John O'Donoghue, Mary Harney, Ray Burke and a host of others not been held accountable and been forced to pay back the sickeningly astronomical amounts of money they screwed from the government coffers and labelled `expenses'? (Again I recommend Ken Foxe's revealingly brilliant book "Snouts in the trough"). Surely that would send out the right message to anyone deciding to run for office in the future. These people rarely appear answerable for their actions. Never-ending tribunals and enquiries seem to only ever end up draining the country's financial resources further. Even a little community service might go some way to help make amends.

Resignations rarely happen, and when they do it is often the wrong person who resigns, as in the recent Róisín Shortall case. When we vote in a politician we are putting our full trust in that politician as they become responsible for the future of our towns, counties and country. All of us take risks in our lives, so surely our elected politicians who take risks ought to be then held accountable for their actions and/or inactions.

Seán Brady, Desmond Connell and others ought to have publicly apologised, then resigned, when they failed on moral, ethical and personal grounds to protect our country's children from the evil abusers who prowled their churches and schools. The hierarchy are undoubtedly accountable. They must certainly be dreading the moment when they have to give account of themselves to their God on Judgement Day.

In Jimmy Saville's case his rape, sexual abuse and predatory behaviour of under-age girls ought to of course have been investigated fully within his lifetime, and it is small comfort to his victims that he himself is ultimately responsible for his despicable behaviour as he lies decomposing in his gold casket. Only time will tell if others will be held accountable for their inaction and silence in the Saville case.

Gadaffi, Miloaevic, bin Laden and Saddam paid the ultimate price for their mis-deeds as each tried to escape accountability for their very questionable beliefs and acts. One can only hope that Bashar al-Assad will one day be answerable for his reign of terror.

It took long enough for the truth about Hillsborough to emerge, while those affected by the "Stardust" tragedy still remain in limbo awaiting justice and closure.
It is high time society adopted a zero-tolerance approach where `accountability' is concerned.