‘Corruption was both endemic and systemic’ and it ‘affected every level of government’

This time 100 years ago men and women were planning to take on the most powerful empire on the planet and lay down their lives for an egalitarian Republic that would cherish all of the children of the nation equally. But 100 years on their ideals and dreams have never been realised as two corrupt parties, Fianna Fail (Tweedledum) and Fine Gael (Tweedledee) and their forebears stole the revolution and abused it from 1922 onwards. Their cronyism and gombeenism has only been surpassed by their corruption. BRENDAN OGLE  recalls some of the scandals that they have brought on the Republic dreamed of by Connolly, Pearse, McDonagh, Clarke, MacDiarmada, Plunkett and Ceannt.100 years on can we have the courage to reclaim their Republic for us, the people, and put an end to scandals like these?

MICHAEL LOWRY, DENIS O’BRIEN AND FINE GAEL

Michael Lowry was then a young Minister for what we now call ‘communications’. O’Brien was then a young businessman anxious to get his hands on a government mobile phone license. The Moriarty Tribunal ultimately got to the heart of the matter and found evidence of collusion between Lowry and O’Brien and that O’Brien gave “substantial sums of money to Fine Gael” so that O’Brien’s company, ESAT Digifone, could get an “unfair advantage in getting the lucrative mobile phone licence”. It was effectively awarded by Lowry as the Minister responsible. 

Moriarty found that O’Brien specifically gave this substantial money to Fine Gael to “make friends” with people in the party as the lead Government party.  

Lowry was a willing recruit in this and Moriarty also found Denis O’Brien, or persons close to him, subsequently sought to give large amounts of money to Michael Lowry.

Lowry was forced to resign as Minister when the scandal emerged but then-Taoiseach John Bruton got visibly emotional on national TV that night and described Lowry as his “best friend forever”. No wonder. O’Brien’s money had done much to wipe out the massive Fine Gael debt.

Since then Lowry has repeatedly been elected as an Independent for Tipperary and is now offering support up to Enda Kenny to help him stay on as Taosieach after the election. As noted by the Tribunal, Denis O’Brien on the other hand has never stopped being “close” to Fine Gael, as we now see from JMC Sierra winning an Irish Water contract.

IVOR CALLELY – FIANNA FAIL

One of the few politicians to do jail time was Ivor Callely of Fianna Fail. Callely lived in leafy Clontarf, Dublin, but claimed Oireachtas travel expenses of €81,015 to Bantry in Cork from 2007 – 2010. He further claimed €2,907 for mobile phones he bought off a company called ‘Business Communication Limited’ from 2002 – 2005. The problem? ‘Business Communications Limited’ had ceased to exist eight years earlier in 1994. Callely served a jail sentence of five months in Wheatfield Prison.

LIAM LAWLOR – FIANNA FAIL

Liam Lawlor was a Fianna Fail Dublin TD who was involved in various planning decisions including the building of Quarryvale shopping centre, and much besides. Lawlor routinely collected money for Fianna Fáil and himself off Frank Dunlop and building developers in advance of voting decisions and planning on Dublin City Council.  

In the light of allegations of planning corruption, Fianna Fáil established an internal committee on Standards in Public Life. The committee interviewed a number of party members, including Lawlor, but eventually found that Lawlor had failed to co-operate with it by not naming an individual who had furnished him with a donation. 

On the eve of publication of the committee report in June 2000, Lawlor resigned from the party. However, he continued to support and vote with the Bertie Ahern-led Government as an ‘independent’. Such was the scandal that Lawlor did not stand in the 2002 General Election. He was forced to appear before the Flood Tribunal several times and was imprisoned on three occasions (in January 2001, January 2002 and February 2002, for a total of six weeks) for contempt based on his attitude and non-compliance with the Tribunal.

Lawlor was released from prison on February 7, 2002 to make a Dáil appearance during which he ignored unprecedented all-party calls for his resignation. He mounted a stout defence of his reputation without addressing any specifics during an hour-long debate. Arriving at Leinster House in a prison van, Lawlor sat alone at the rear of the Chamber while the five party leaders, in turn, called on him to step down.

RAY BURKE – FIANNA FAIL

Ray Burke TD was found by the Planning (Flood) Tribunal to be ‘corrupt’ after he received IR£80,000 from a property developer. This emerged while Burke was Minister for Foreign Affairs and he was forced to resign.

Burke had previously been involved in controversy when, after the 1989 election, he was heard off camera saying, “I’m going to fucking screw RTE” before being given both the Justice and Communications portfolio. 

He used the Communications brief to inhibit RTE’s revenue raising ability and also to award a slew of independent radio licences including one to ‘Century Radio’. The Flood Tribunal found that Century had paid “large bribes” to Burke to secure the licence. Burke subsequently falsified tax returns to hide these bribes, was subsequently caught and then sentenced to six months in Arbour Hill Prison on January 24, 2005. He was released after 4.5 months with 25% remission for ‘good behaviour’.

CHARLIE HAUGHEY – FIANNA FAIL

Haughey’s personal wealth and extravagant lifestyle – he owned racehorses, a large motor sailing yacht Celtic Mist, an island and a Gandon mansion – had long been a point of curious speculation on which he had refused throughout his career to answer any questions. Despite his professed desire to fade from public attention, these questions followed him into retirement where the background to his lifestyle was eventually exposed. 

In 1997 the McCracken Tribunal first revealed that Haughey had received substantial monetary gifts from businessmen, and that he had held secret accounts offshore on the Cayman Islands Ansbacher Bank. Haughey faced criminal charges for obstructing the work of McCracken and was put on trial on these charges. 

This trial, however, was postponed after PD leader Mary Harney made comments that the High Court unfortunately interpreted as preventing Haughey getting a fair trial.

Also in 1997 allegations emerged that Haughey had embezzled taxpayers’ money destined for the Fianna Fáil party and that he had spent large portions of these funds on Charvet shirts and expensive dinners in a top Dublin restaurant while preaching belt-tightening and implementing budget cuts as a national policy. 

Another Tribunal, the Moriarty Tribunal, subsequently delved further into Haughey's financial dealings. In his main report on Charles Haughey released on December 19, 2006, Mr. Justice Moriarty made the following findings:

Haughey was paid more than IR£8million between 1979 and 1986 from various benefactors and businessmen, including £1.3 million from then-Dunnes Stores owner Ben Dunne. In May 1989, one of Haughey's lifelong friends, former government minister Brian Lenihan, underwent a liver transplant which was partly paid for through fundraising by Haughey. The Moriarty tribunal found that of the £270,000 collected in donations for Brian Lenihan, no more than £70,000 ended up being spent on Lenihan's medical care. The tribunal identified one specific donation of £20,000 for Lenihan that was surreptitiously appropriated by Haughey,

The tribunal found evidence of favours performed in return for money – Saudi businessman Mahmoud Fustok sought Haughey’s support for Irish citizenship and paid him £50,000

In other evidence of favours performed, the tribunal reported that Haughey arranged meetings between Ben Dunne and Revenue Commissioners civil servant Seamus Pairceir. These discussions resulted in a capital gains tax bill of Dunne being reduced by £22.8 million. Moriarty found that this was "not coincidental", and that it was a substantial benefit conferred on Dunne by Haughey's actions.

l  AIB settled a million-pound overdraft with Haughey soon after he became Taoiseach in 1979; the tribunal found that the lenience shown by the bank in this case amounted to an indirect payment by the bank to Haughey.

l The tribunal rejected Haughey's claims of ignorance of his own financial affairs and Haughey was accused by the tribunal of “devaluing democracy”.

BERTIE AHERN – FIANNA FAIL

Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach and, previously, Minister for Finance was investigated by the Mahon Tribunal following an allegation by Tom Gilmartin that Ahern had been paid money by Developer Owen O'Callaghan in return for ‘favours’. 

The Tribunal found that Ahern's explanations for lodgements to his various accounts could not be true, and thus Gilmartin's allegation could not be disproved. One lodgement of IR£30,000, in 1994, took place in the precise weeks following the circumstances Gilmartin described, with contemporaneous AIB notes confirming Gilmartin's account of Ahern assuring Owen O'Callaghan that a rival property development at Blanchardstown would not get tax designation, and on the same day as a meeting with Owen O'Callaghan's bag-man, Frank Dunlop. The Tribunal also discovered that Ahern, when Taoiseach, had visited Dunlop in the weeks immediately subsequent to Dunlop's admission of corrupt payments on behalf of Owen O'Callaghan, prior to Dunlop resuming the witness stand to elaborate further on his activities.

Ahern was also criticised by another Tribunal, the Moriarty Tribunal, for signing blank cheques for the then-Taoiseach Charles Haughey, without asking what those cheques were for. Ahern told the tribunal that a policy of signing blank cheques was routinely used on the Fianna Fáil party leader's account. 

In relation to other published disclosed payments of €50,000 Ahern as Taoiseach admitted that he did receive money from benefactors but said on being interviewed that: “What I got personally in my life, to be frank with you is none of your business. If I got something from somebody as a present or something like that I can use it.”

Previously however in 1996, while in Opposition, Ahern had stated: “The public are entitled to have an absolute guarantee of the financial probity and integrity of their elected representatives, their officials and above all of Ministers. They need to know that they are under financial obligations to nobody.” (Dáil Éireann transcript, December 1996)

Six days after these payments were publicised, Ahern admitted in a television interview that he had received two payments totalling IR£39,000 (€50,000) in 1993 and 1994. 

Ahern regarded the money as a loan, but he conceded that no repayments had at that time (September 2006) been made and no interest has been paid. He said that he had attempted to repay it, but that his friends would not accept repayment. Ahern had no bank accounts to put the money into and had hidden some of it up a chimney, he had also previously claimed to have won it on horses.

MICHAEL KEATING – FINE GAEL & PROGRESSIVE DEMOCRATS

On May 17, 2002 Keating, who had been subject to the three-year Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) investigation paid €250,000 back for undeclared tax. Keating was subsequently named in a British Court as a “partner in crime” in a £20 million Sterling VAT fraud.

HUGH McELVANEY – FINE GAEL

The Monaghan County Councillor was recently filmed on national television asking for €10,000 “for a start” off a fictitious company to fix planning for tem so they could erect wind turbines all over Monaghan. He was dubbed “Pocketman” when secret filming showed him mimicking stuffing his pockets with invisible cash in a meeting with an agent for the made-up company. When it was exposed on national TV, McElvaney said of the RTE reporter that he had “lured her into my trap” and that he plans to run for election again. He boasted that he will still get elected.

 

Right2Water/Right2Change are hosting a major national demonstration this Saturday, 20th February 2016 where we will be saying "Another Ireland is Possible". Please come to Parnell Square at 2pm and let's demand change. More information here.

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