Jackie’s presence damages public interest

There is something quite challenging about Independent councillor Jackie Healy-Rae - recently convicted of serious criminal offences - sitting on the Kerry Joint Policing Committee that is mandated to advise, amongst other things, the gardaí on how best to tackle crime in Kerry.

There is something quite outlandish about that same councillor quizzing the highest police officer in the state, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris, about suspected garda leaks to journalists, and giving advice to the Garda Chief Superintendent in Kerry, Eileen Foster, about how the drug culture should be tackled by the forces of law and order. But that’s what Councillor Jackie Healy-Rae did last Friday - out in the open, bold as brass, politically shameless despite receiving a lengthy suspended eight-month jail sentence last month after being found guilty of assault and assault causing harm to a man in Kenmare at the end of December 2017.

He told Kerry’s top Garda officer how drugs were out of control and that, if that illegal trade is to be defeated, the ‘fear factor’ has to be there.

“Education is important but the fear factor must be there,” he said.

Indeed.

Jackie Healy-Rae’s membership of the JPC is a matter of public interest. In the light of his convictions in a court of law, the reasons for this appear so obvious as to not require explanation.

In fairness to Cllr Healy-Rae, it must be acknowledged that he is appealing the assault convictions recorded against him in the District Court to the Circuit Court. And, as we do not know and cannot say what the outcome of that appeal will be - if and when it takes place (since that is entirely a matter for the Circuit Court judge concerned) - it is not unreasonable to entertain the possibility that those convictions may, in fact, be overturned.

However, as we stand, Councillor Healy-Rae is a convicted criminal. Those convictions are current. They are now. They are live.

And, as such, it is not appropriate for him to continue his membership of the JPC.

In the interests of the credibility of the JPC, Councillor Healy-Rae should have stepped aside, at least until the conclusion of his appeal to the Circuit Court.

His continued membership, while these convictions stand, is an affront to all reasonable people who believe in the rule of law and good politics.

Politics is about values. It’s supposed to stand for principles that underpin community, enhance the quality of people’s lives and raise our spirits.

Politics is not about toughing it out, or offending ideals of behaviour that bind us as a civilised society.  It’s not about brass neck or thick skin, or thumbing your nose.

The JPC - by the presence of Jackie Healy-Rae in these circumstances - has had its reputation shredded. It cannot claim to retain any credibility whatsoever amongst reasonable members of the public. The gardaí and other public representatives on the JPC should not have allowed this to happen.

They should not have continued to attend last Friday’s meeting while a person so recently convicted and sentenced in a criminal court was present.

They should have withdrawn in the public interest.

That interest has now been damaged. And that’s completely wrong.