Return to Irish politics menu
Flood Tribunal - Corrupt chickens coming home to roost at last?
7th October 2002
One week after publication, almost all of the 25,000 copies of the Flood Tribunal’s second interim report into planning corruption in Dublin have been sold out. An additional 2,000 CD Roms containing the report have been sold and around 40,000 downloads of the report have been made from the Tribunal’s web site plus thousands more from various other sites. The total could well exceed 100,000, rivalled in the publishing world only by Roy Keane’s recent ‘autobiography.’
The report makes clear that Ray Burke, former Fianna Fail (FF) TD and Foreign Minister, received tens of thousands of pounds in corrupt payments from many prominent businessmen, many of whom are criticised in the report for obstructing the work of the Tribunal. Needless to say we have been reminded that getting criminal convictions may be an entirely different matter.
The importance of the report however does not lie with the corruption exposed but with the fact that the report has opened the door to more sustained examination of the role of the teflon Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern. Already prominent FF member PJ Mara has been forced to resign as FF’s director of campaign in the Nice Treaty referendum, having just been celebrated in this role in the recent general elections. There is growing concern within FF that damaging revelations await their Taoiseach.
Even at the present time enough questions exist to raise very large eyebrows. FF raised between £50,000 and £100,000 from property developer Owen O’Callaghan when Ahern was in charge of fundraising. In his final day as minister of finance before the FF/Labour coalition collapsed he granted a special tax designation to a site pertly owned by O’Callaghan. Another FF donor Ken Rohan was the sole beneficiary of Ahern’s 1994 Finance Act which introduced a retrospective section going back 12 years which saved Rohan a tax bill of £1.5 million. Files on tax designation in Dublin have ‘gone missing’ and Ahern claims he knows nothing about the identity of people who own land in areas benefiting from tax designations he granted in 1994 – including within his own constituency! At the moment however conjecture surrounds Ahern’s dealings with Burke.
Just why did Ahern appoint Burke as Foreign minister when allegations of corruption hung over him as a smell hangs over rotting fish? Burke’s career was effectively over when Ahern gave him the job and the latter had been warned that there were serious questions hanging over him by the previous Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds. When someone like Reynolds is in a position to question the probity of a politician you really know something is up. After all had Burke not been the subject of hours of fraud squad questioning years before?
Yet Ahern had claimed that he had been ‘up every tree in north Dublin’ investigating the affairs of Burke and found that there was nothing to indicate any cause for concern. His investigation however did not include speaking to the main person making allegations, Frank Gogarty. Speculation now mounts as to what Burke had over Ahern that made the latter appoint him to the foreign ministry. Rumours that a serving cabinet minister, not a million miles from Ahern himself, received £80,000 in corrupt payments have been published in the press. Most tantalisingly Burke has stated that he has something to say and that when the time is right he will say it.
Ahern’s robust defence of Burke up until the report’s release and his less that robust criticism of his erstwhile friend and colleague after it, plus his shifty and determined refusal to answer directly many of the questions arising, have aroused concern and anger. Opposition parties in the Dail are seeking a full debate in the chamber with the right to question Ahern, while the governing parties want to restrict business to statements only.
In some ways the impact of Flood’s report is surprising. After all we have all heard the allegations already, as the evidence was given, and no one can be surprised at the verdict, even if it was delivered in a more direct and unambiguous manner than is usual from the judiciary.
Part of the explanation lies in the prospect of further revelations from Burke himself but the more significant part lies in the context in which old revelations are confirmed and new ones promised.
There is something very symbolic about the judiciary finding a prominent Fianna Fail politician guilty of lying and corruption at a time when the court of public opinion has found the new FF/PD government guilty of lying about cuts in public expenditure in order to win the election. Anger moderated by time and the seeming endless nature of charges has been re-ignited by new anger at the latest lies.
The economic boom is fast becoming history and there is a real fear that disenchantment with the government and establishment generally may lead to another rejection of the Nice Treaty, something the whole establishment from the bosses and main political parties to the bureaucrats of ICTU are desperate to prevent. Hence the very rapid resignation of Mara. Exposure of Ahern as corrupt would throw the government into crisis in a situation where the prime feature of the recent election was the demonstration of a crisis of the official opposition. The whole political establishment would be severely discredited weakening its ability to impose the attacks on the working class the present economic situation demands.
All these forces are desperate to make a distinction between Fianna Fail corruption and lies over the public finances on the one hand and the Nice Treaty and cuts in public spending and other sacrifices that workers will be called on to make on the other.
They are all of a piece. They should all be rejected.
But the left needs to learn something. When an opportunity arises in which issues as usually distinct as these can be combined in popular consciousness it is time to go beyond simple rejection and start putting forward a programmatic alternative. If this is not done the anger and disenchantment will dissipate and in a year’s time we will find the worker’s movement once again in the stranglehold of partnership between the same bunch of crooks, liars, parasites and traitors.