I’m not of an age to recall the Cumann na nGaedheal government in 1927 using the bankruptcy laws to deprive Jim Larkin of his Dáil seat, but it’s an integral part of the political folklore that forms my background. Maybe that’s why I find it difficult to be censorious in the case of Beverley Flynn, or maybe it’s just a sense of mischief. Then of course there’s the basic democratic principle that the people of Mayo have spoken, only a few short weeks ago, and if the people of Mayo want Bev to represent them, as they evidently do, then they’re entitled to have her.
As things stand, her settlement with RTÉ in respect of her failed libel action in 2001 means that, instead of being pressed for the full €2.8m, Bev will commit to paying considerably less than half of that, which is still a penalty not to be sneezed at. There is nothing odd or suspicious about RTÉ reaching a settlement in the interests of the licence-payers. Faced with a choice between a settlement that will bring in a million quid and change, and pressing a bankruptcy action that could have seen them struggling to recover anything, any accountant worth his salt would have said, Go for the settlement. It’s the same principle as a company settling a personal injury claim that they could have legitimately contested, because often paying off a plaintiff makes more sense than risking going before a jury.
What complicates this, of course, is Bertie’s statement of a little while back holding out the prospect of Bev recovering the Fianna Fáil whip, and even looking at junior ministerial office a little way down the road. Fine Gael are hailing this as evidence that the RTÉ Authority has been nobbled. Somehow I doubt that. Not only are the RTÉ Authority not renowned for being a panel of FF stooges, but it would be deeply uncharacteristic of Bertie to do anything so blatantly. Had Bertie really been twisting arms at RTÉ, he would have kept very very quiet on the Flynn case.
But the FG reaction speaks volumes. If I understand Electric Enda correctly, RTÉ settling with Bev is proof positive of political interference. One assumes that the non-political course of action would have been to have Bev declared bankrupt, trigger a by-election in Mayo that FG would almost certainly win, and play merry hell with the coalition arithmetic in Leinster House. It’s the authentic response of a party that believes that it rightfully owns the state, which is only being illegitimately squatted by Fianna Fáil. Yes, those old Cumann na nGaedheal instincts don’t lie far below the surface.