Decades of lies

Corruption affected every level of government from cabinet ministers to local councillors during two decades of political dominance by Fianna Fáil, according to the final report of the Mahon planning tribunal.

The report, published yesterday, accused former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of untruthfulness. It found former European commissioner Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, and said another former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, had abused his power.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny declared his government was referring the report to the Garda police commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission. A three-day parliamentary debate on the report will take place next week.

The report also found some individuals at lower levels in Fine Gael and one former Labour councillor had been guilty of improper behaviour.

“Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated,” said the report.

The tribunal found Mr Ahern had given untrue evidence about his personal finances, including deposits to accounts that the tribunal found were large sterling and dollar cash deposits.

Mr Kenny said the report revealed “corrupt practices” by a number of politicians and contained “a litany of unacceptable statements from the former Taoiseach”.

The tribunal found Mr Ahern knew the true source of some payments investigated by the tribunal, but chose not to disclose their origin.

It also rejected the evidence of Mr Ahern and others to the effect that collections or “digouts” occurred in 1993 and 1994 that resulted in Mr Ahern being given £22,500 and £16,500.

The tribunal said it was satisfied a British sterling deposit of £28,772 on December 5th, 1994, by Mr Ahern’s then partner, Celia Larkin, to an account in her name but to be held for Mr Ahern’s benefit, was not the proceeds of a payment by Manchester businessman Micheal Wall. The tribunal said it was satisfied it was in fact the result of the deposit of a US dollar payment of $45,000 in cash.

The sources of that and other payments remain a mystery, with property developers seen as the most likely candidates -- but there have also been suggestions that some of the cash originated with foreign governments.

The behaviour of former Fianna Fáil minister Pádraig Flynn came in for severe criticism in the report, which accused him of giving “astounding, incredible and untrue” evidence.

The report found he had “wrongfully and corruptly sought a substantial donation” from developer Tom Gilmartin for Fianna Fáil, and having been paid IR£50,000 had proceeded to “utilise the money for his personal benefit”.

The report also said that, while the tribunal was inquiring into matters relating to Mr Ahern in the 2007-2008 period, it had itself been deeply undermined by the political system. It said it had come “under sustained and virulent attack from a number of senior government ministers who questioned.. the legality of its inquiries as well as the integrity of its members”.

It added: “There appears little doubt that the objective of these extraordinary and unprecedented attacks on the tribunal was to undermine the efficient conduct of the tribunal’s inquiries, erode its independence and collapse its inquiry into that individual.”

While the finding that Ahern had been “untruthful” came as no surprise, the strength of Mahon’s attack on corruption generally has surprised Ireland’s political elites.

Despite a wave of indignation among the normally compliant mainstream media, it remains unclear whether it will be enough to bring unprecedented charges against Ahern or his cronies. The so-called ‘Teflon Taoiseach’ remained defiant today, describing the findings as “objectionable and inaccurate”, and insisted he would be looking to vindicate his name.

Ireland’s historic tolerance of cronyism, fraud and white-collar criminality has been linked by sociologists to its colonial past, when local authorities would frequently ignore or conspire against their British masters.

Ahern’s predecessor, Charlie Haughey, enjoyed a billionaire’s lifestyle, owning racehorses, large motor sailing yacht Celtic Mist, a private island, and a Gandon-designed mansion. Despite public notoriety for his cryptic financial dealings, he served three terms as Taoiseach.

But with extraordinary public outrage directed against Fianna Fail today, the report may finally mark the end of the “fat chieftain” syndrome, whereby communities happily gave their support to Irish politicians who proved they could manipulate the political system -- even illegally -- to their advantage.

Speaking in the aftermath of the publication of the report of the Mahon Tribunal today, Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, Jonathan O’Brien TD, said it was clear that current Fianna Fail leader Mícheál Martin also had questions to answer.

“Deputy Mícheál Martin was a senior member of the cabinet then and is Fianna Fáil party leader now,” he said.

“He has a number of questions to answer regarding the conduct and credibility of his party colleagues who are still members of the Dáil.”

Mr O’Brien pointed to the attacks against the Mahon tribunal by the then government, of which he was a member.

“As a member of that cabinet, can he clarify if these attacks were part of an orchestrated campaign at the behest of Bertie Ahern?,” he asked.

“Does he know which of his former ministerial colleagues are being referred to by Justice Mahon in the report? Are any of these currently serving Fianna Fáil TDs? If they are serving TDs, what action is he going to take against them now?”

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© 2012 Irish Republican News