C: Pippa Hackett / Facebook

The Minister, the Advisor, and the Advisor’s son

Anyone familiar with Irish politics will be well aware of the role of nepotism, and the existence of “the family seat” in some political families. We have many TDs – Sean Haughey, for example, or Helen McEntee – who succeeded parents in elected office. The President’s own daughter is a member of the Seanad. Enda Kenny succeeded his father. Eamon O’Cuiv is the grandson of Eamon DeValera. On, and on, it goes. And it is hard to complain about since, after all, there’s nothing undemocratic about it: The voters are the ones who elected these people, for good, or for ill. Voting for a person because their parent was a good representative is not how this writer might choose to vote, but it’s not illegitimate, either.

What we have now, though, is something quite different: The family “special advisor” job. We’ll let the Farmer’s Journal tell the tale, since they beat us to the story:

Junior Agriculture Minister Pippa Hackett has recruited a new special advisor.

Declan O’Rourke has put his career as a solicitor with McCann FitzGerald on hold to go and advise the Minister.

He steps into the shoes of someone he knows well – his mother, Caroline Murphy, who is leaving her position as Hackett’s special advisor and prior to that worked in the same role for Charlie Flanagan. Declan’s father is the retired RTE presenter Seán O’Rourke, who’s also well used to handling politicians.

There is, lest it be thought to the contrary, no suggestion of corruption here. Ministers are, after all, entitled to be advised by whomever they wish. Most of us, in positions of public office, and high pressure jobs, would probably be inclined to hire somebody we trust to advise us. So, there’s no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the Minister, or her new appointee.

But isn’t it extraordinary, nonetheless?

Many voters in Ireland are increasingly drawn towards Sinn Fein, a party which is explicitly anti-establishment, whether one agrees with it or not. At least part of that phenomenon can be explained by the widespread perception that the present Government is not only incompetent, but also, to some degree, self-serving. That it represents a particular class, and the interests of that class, more than it represents anybody else.

And, what’s more, that despite all their talk, most politicians are all the same. Which makes two elements of this story interesting. The first thing is not to do with nepotism, but with unusual career paths: There would not be many informed voters, you might think, who would imagine that Charlie Flanagan and the Greens would have much in common, ideologically. Isn’t it funny that a person can go seamlessly from advising one, to advising the other? Doesn’t it undercut, at least a little, the idea that the Greens in Government are about change? You come into Government, and you hire an person advising an outgoing minister whose performance, in theory, dissatisfied you to the extent that you sought to replace them?

And the second element, of course, is the stench of perceived nepotism. There are not many people in Ireland with an RTE presenter for a father, and a Government advisor for a mother, who walk without much public comment into a very well paid role advising a Government minister, succeeding their own parent in the role.

It paints a picture, whether intentional or not, of a closed shop political class whose cultural and economic similarities overcome any superficial policy differences.

A voter who wants to shake this whole system up can point to this episode and use it to justify their vote, and elicit, at least from me, quite a bit of sympathy.

It’s also – last point here – a bit strange how little commentary this has received in the media, isn’t it? Credit to the Farmer’s Journal, but where are the big papers and broadcasters on this one? Or should we, perhaps, remember that most advisors to Ministers are ex-journalists, and that there might always be a negative future career consequence for criticising appointments like this one too prominently?

People can draw their own conclusions. In this one, I think, the facts of the matter speak for themselves.

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