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Resignation

May I be the first to call on you to resign.

These were the words texted to me by a close friend on hearing that I had been appointed Minister for Children in 2008.

Behind the humour was the painful reality that resignation haunts all political careers.

“The ‘good chap’ principle in England, the tradition that sometimes you have to leave office for the greater good seems passe”. So wrote Maureen Dowd in her column published in the IT last week.


However, the last few months saw an epidemic of ministerial resignations in the UK, not to mention prime ministerial resignations. There were an eye-watering 80 ministerial resignations between 2020 and 2022 under Boris Johnson. As Maureen Dowd suggests, only a few were ‘for the greater good’.


In a related context, George Orwell explained to some extent why the working classes tolerated the upper classes in England. Orwell noted that whatever their other faults, at least the upper classes had the good manners to die in battle from time to time, noting that “several dukes, earls and what nots were killed in the recent campaign in Flanders”.


And maybe that’s why the Tories continue to be tolerated. The political battlefield is strewn with the corpses of fallen PMs. They even thought better of exhuming Boris.



Resignation is of course an occupational hazard in politics in a way that is not found in any other walk of life.


Naturally, the standards of personal behaviour are higher if your job is to set those standards as a legislator. The hazard of resignation is therefore, definitively, an occupational one.


It reminds me of the Garfield cartoon. The eponymous cat is lazing around and his owner says, “why are you so lazy?”. Garfiled replies, “it’s a feature not a bug”. Resignation is a feature of political life.


Nevertheless, the politician in me couldn’t help but feel sorry for Liz Truss as she marched out to the over-worked resignation podium outside 10 Downing Street.


I also resigned in a very public way from my position as CEO of GOAL in 2016. At the time, it was extremely stressful but also, in some ways, a relief. It came about after months of investigations by the US authorities into collusion in the procurement of aid contracts in Syria.


While I was not under investigation myself, I felt responsible and that the best thing for the organisation was to step down in an orderly way. By the time it was announced a replacement had already been identified and I was able to go on Morning Ireland to effectively announce it myself.

It was stressful calling my family members to tell them that I would be stepping down and that they would read about it in the newspapers the following day.


In Irish political life, there is far less resignation. Golfgate sparked a flurry of resignations. The return of Dara Calleary is proof that resignation is not fatal.


When Charles Stewart Parnell’s affair became news in 1890, he was encouraged to ‘resign, remarry and return’. Ignoring the good advice, he tried to keep control of his party and died in the effort a year later.

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