Radio Ga Ga
BY MICHAEL PIERSE
It has been yet another week of sensation at the tribunals as further details of the alleged bribery of leading Fianna Fáil members have again emerged, this time in relation to the zoning of the airwaves rather than the zoning of land.
Four withdrawals of £13,100 were made from Century Radio director Oliver Barry's account in 1989, we were told, while a month later the same amounts were lodged to then Minister for Communications Ray Burke's account.
We have seen more signs that the leading politicians in Ireland today were completely aware of the sleaze and corruption that was running beneath the surface of politics ten or twenty years ago
At the time, Century Radio had been negotiating to procure a cheap radio license from the state as the first commercial radio venture to span the 26 Counties.
James Stafford, another of the directors at Century, gave the most damning evidence to the Flood tribunal on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. He claimed that he had been approached to pay a fee of £90,000 to disgraced former Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke and his colleague and Fianna Fáil press secretary of the time, PJ Mara.
According to evidence he presented at the tribunal, Stafford was told by fellow director Oliver Barry that he would ``have to pay money to Ray Burke and PJ Mara'' in order to secure a broadcasting licence. A fee of £90,000 for a national licence, £75,000 for one of the two Dublin franchises and £50,000 for a local radio licence were specified, as the amounts he would have to pay to bribe the two senior Fianna Fáil figures. The fact that Stafford could list these licence fees out like the mundane details of a pension scheme shows, if his allegations are true, that this was not just some ramshackle backhand deal. His claims suggest that there was ample premeditation involved, and surely it follows that there was ample knowledge of these dealings in Fianna Fáil circles. It is unlikely that Burke and O'Mara could set such preconditions without leadership support. Certainly, Burke is likely to face more in-depth questions than those he faced in relation to the James Gogarty payments, which originally brought his name into disrepute.
But Century Radio were not by far the innocent victims of governmental corruption. The tribunal heard that the station's investors also had a secret involvement in a separate bid for a radio licence at the time, in direct contravention of Independent Radio and Television Commission (IRTC) rules. This wasn't the only rule they broke, it appears. As is customary in tribunals these days, there has to be some reference, however peripheral, to the Haughey family. This time it was Charles Haughey's son-in-law, John Mulhern. He had a 14% stake in the radio bid that was illegally concealed from the IRTC, it was claimed.
Ray Burke, the man who had been lauded as having `levelled the playing pitch' for radio in Ireland, is now being accused of having moved the goalposts and highjacked the keeper. His intervention on behalf of Century Radio in 1989, during a fees dispute with RTÉ, is now being connected to the current revelations. RTÉ had demanded £614,000 from the commercial station for the right to use their equipment to broadcast throughout Ireland, but following Burke's representations on behalf of Century Radio, this fee was dramatically reduced to £150,000, half of what Century themselves had proposed to pay. This came despite the fact that Burke had previously written to the IRTC saying that RTÉ's demands were ``not unreasonable''. RTÉ claimed that they, along with the public, were put in the unfair position of carrying a rival commercial station on their backs.
Again, we have seen more signs that the leading politicians in Ireland today were completely aware of the sleaze and corruption that was running beneath the surface of politics ten or twenty years ago.
Revelations in this week's Sunday Tribune sheared a few curls off those quiet `independent' TDs who have kept the coalition government afloat. Bertie's lambs - Mildred Fox, Jackie Healey Ray, Tom Gildea and Harry Blaney - have said virtually nothing in last year's Dáil. Ahern's dependance on them has meant that they have been quite cosy with using the old `pull the plug' threat and haven't found much to complain about. While three of the four TDs have said nothing, Mildred Fox scored the highest with a staggering eight minutes over the one-year period. John Bruton was uncommonly on-the-ball when he jibed that they are ``dependants'' rather than independents.
Bruton has been keeping himself busy since Fine Gael managed to stabilise their vote in the Tipperary South by-election. While he told the media last Saturday of his visions of a coalition with the Labour Party, PD leader Mary Harney has this week chipped in and said she might add the PDs to his list. While Labour leader Ruairí Quinn has denied any agreement with Fine Gael, he hasn't ruled out a coalition agreement with Fianna Fáil. Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee politics remain the order of the day, where all and sundry have a single tranferable manifesto.