Time to end Tribunal pantomimes?
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
Warning: Tribunals can damage your health.
They can also inflict serious wounds on political careers. Add to this an ability to enrage the public with revelations of systematic corruption and abuse of power while at the same time boring us with their endlessness and tediousness. It raises the question of is it time to end the Tribunal pantomimes?
This week the Flood and Moriarty Tribunals hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Disgraced former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor refused to attend the Flood Tribunal on the grounds that he wanted to know the nature of the allegations against him. He has also refused to comply with 50 written requests from the Tribunal's legal team. The requests were for details of his banking records and have been sent to him over the last two years.
The Tribunals are failing because despite the best intentions of the judiciary and public servants, they are a system of inquiry designed by politicians to investigate politicians
The chair of the Tribunal, Justice Flood, has now referred the issue to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Lawlor could face a fine of up to £10,000 as well as two years in prison.
Disgraced former Taoiseach Charles Haughey is unable to give evidence at the Moriarty Tribunal because the questioning is allegedly causing deterioration in his health. Haughey has been suffering from prostrate cancer since 1995.
The irony of these two cases is not lost on the general public. Lawlor faces jail and a fine not because of any wrongdoing unearthed by the Flood Tribunal, but because of his blocking of any attempts to actually investigate suspected wrongdoing. Haughey faces a painful death, an execution of sorts, if the Moriarty Tribunal continues its gentle probing of his extraordinary financial dealings. We are now approaching the £9 million mark in monies received by Haughey.
Do we really need to hear any more from Haughey? His past 12 appearances at the Moriarty tribunal have a provided a stunning insight into his own personal disdain for anyone who questions him, but there is little else of value in his testimony or cross-examination.
Haughey clearly could not care less what any of us think of his political record, so why should we care about his long-term health? If the medical reports submitted by his legal team are to be believed, Haughey is suffering from a terminal condition.
The lesson from the Lawlor and Haughey debacle could be that the Tribunal process has reached the end of its life. They are failing to achieve their
stated purpose. The Tribunals are failing because despite the best intentions of the judiciary and public servants, they are a system of inquiry designed by politicians to investigate politicians. In fact, it has been the revelations of non-politicians like James Gogarty, Frank Dunlop and Ben Dunne that fuelled the work of the Tribunals.
Neither the Beef nor McCracken tribunals have lead to any real repercussions for the political establishment other than the simple lesson of covering tracks. It is unlikely that the Flood or Moriarty Tribunals will be any different.
The public wants to know the answers to simple questions like did Lawlor get £48,000 from Frank Dunlop? Why was he paid £74,000 by National Toll Roads and thousands also from developer Tom Gilmartin?
Did Lawlor really, as Gilmartin claims, pass himself off as a Government official? Similar claims were made during the Beef Tribunal that Lawlor, then a non-executive director for Goodman International, had presented himself to Iraqi diplomats as once again being a Dublin Government official.
We are today nowhere nearer getting an answer to these questions. The Tribunal process has to be changed to turn them into something more than a new political sport. One friend of Haughey has been quoted widely as claiming that ``in the old days he (Haughey) would have demolished them''.
While Haughey might want to relive his old days of searing sarcasm and ritual intimidation of his fellow TDs, this is not what the tribunals were designed for.
One last comment about Haughey's terminal condition. Here was a man who refused to recognise the real impact of the heroin addiction, deprivation and social exclusion in Dublin's north inner city, right on the fringes of his own Leinster House constituency. Yet when it came to holding onto power he made a deal to put much needed but still limited resources into this area.
How many of Dublin's North Inner City constituents who died from drug- and poverty-related diseases would still be alive today if Haughey had lived up to his responsibilities as a political leader to ensure that everyone had a dignified standard of living and a real future? The real question is then whether their terminal condition was less important then than Haughey's is today?
In terms of the Flood tribunal and corrupt planning practices, the question is why did West Dublin get a prison before basic services like a shopping centre?
In the midst of the carnivals that the tribunal have become, it is clear that these important questions will never be answered.