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Moriarty Report on Haughey -The state did him some service

Andrew Johnson

21st December 2006

The first Moriarty Report, a 704-page doorstop, will take some time to properly digest. This is even before we get a glance at the second and final report, into Michael Lowry’s financial affairs, promised by Judge Moriarty for early in the new year. But Moriarty’s conclusions are clear – this is a ruthless demolition of the corruption of the late Charlie Haughey, the man who dominated Irish politics for three decades. The target alone makes Moriarty by far the most significant of the judicial tribunals to have pronounced on corruption to date. Humbling relative small fry like Liam Lawlor and Pádraig Flynn is one thing, but examining the personal finances of the Boss himself is in a whole different league.

Moriarty goes into exhaustive, and almost stupefying, detail about Charlie’s bank accounts, monies received and irregularities involved. The judge is merciless with the former taoiseach’s affairs, slating his conduct as devaluing Irish democracy and being unworthy of a public representative. Haughey’s own stonewalling testimony, where he claimed lack of recollection, is caustically dismissed.

Portrait of an appalling man

In essence, the Haughey saga is an investigation of how the great man could afford his famously lavish lifestyle – Georgian mansion, stables, private island and all – on a modest politician’s salary. It is a tale of moral decline that only worsened through the years. Although Moriarty does not go into this, it would seem that Haughey initially became a wealthy man in the 1960s legitimately enough, by property speculation during the economic boom of the time. Then in the 1970s, he funded himself by going overdrawn on his AIB account to the tune of hundreds of thousands of pounds. The bank approved these enormous overdrafts, and made no effort to recover them, solely on the basis that Haughey was an important public figure and should therefore be given special treatment.

After becoming Fianna Fail leader and taoiseach in 1979, Haughey’s demands ballooned in scale. This was when the Brown Envelopes culture really came into its own, and donations from big business rolled in. The most infamous are of course the bungs from Ben Dunne, and Moriarty effectively labels Dunne a liar no less than Haughey for his testimony. There was also the appropriation for Charlie’s personal ends of money raised for Fianna Fail election campaigns – the overall picture emerges of a man chronically unable to tell the difference between mine and thine. Overall, Charlie amassed a personal fortune of extraordinary magnitude – Moriarty estimates an aggregate amount of £9.1 million was accrued by him in the period 1979-96 – and bear in mind that this was a period of extreme economic austerity, with unemployment reaching 20%, mass emigration and public services being slashed. And, unlike his early gains in the property market, it is important to realise that this money accrued to Charlie entirely due to his holding of political office.

Most shocking – and Moriarty retells this story in pitiless detail – is the saga of FF fundraising for the late Brian Lenihan’s liver transplant. By Moriarty’s estimation, something like £265,000 was raised for the Lenihan fund, of which no more than £70,000 actually went towards Lenihan’s treatment. The rest was appropriated by Charlie, who had personal control of the fund, with a large proportion going towards his own personal use. Remember that this was Brian Lenihan, one of the most popular politicians in the state, a man who had given decades of service to party and country, who was genuinely loved by rank-and-file Fianna Fail supporters, ordinary men and women who had dug into their own pockets for Brian. And this money went to allow Charlie to live like a Regency buck. What a stunning betrayal of the trust of the people who put Charlie into power in the first place!

The one thing that Moriarty really doesn’t go into is what Irish business got in return for this investment in Charlie. It is suggested that in part this is because legally it is much easier to prove that monies were wrongly received than that benefits wrongly accrued to the donor. British politics during this period is an illustration: under the Thatcher and Major governments, Tory party donors frequently ended up in the House of Lords, but these were establishment capitalists. Tony Blair has got in trouble because of his association with sleazy nouveaux riche who aren’t as subtle about it. Now the naïve may consider it true, as Frank Dunlop says, that the businessmen involved in corruption scandals (like those clients on whose behalf Frank bribed councillors for zoning permissions) might have got what they wanted without greasing Charlie’s palm; however, greasing Charlie’s palm certainly didn’t hurt.

The rise of corruption

The Haughey phenomenon can only be properly understood in its historical context. For the first forty years or so of the Southern state’s existence, although graft was common at local level, major corruption in its current form was not. The parlous state of the economy meant there were few opportunities, and the austere policies set by Fianna Fail leaders like de Valera and Gerry Boland had a major influence on political culture. However Fianna Fail was an organisation founded on retreat from revolutionary nationalism.  As we can see today with Sinn Fein, the members of such an organisation transfer their loyalty from a political aim to loyalty to the organisation and its leaders.  Also as we see again today, the retreat from revolution leads to growing influence for the clerics, leading immediately in the 26counties to the corruption of a confessional state, where church rules and church patronage stand to some extent above the law. Finally the retreat from a political programme, linked to the penury associated with the failure of the nationalists to build an independent economy, fed a climate of patronage and clientilism.  No-one expected anything of right – everything involved knowing the right people and greasing the right palms. The whole system was held in check by Fianna Fail’s populist claims to be aiming for a republic. This claim held large sections of the working class and small farmers in support of the party. 

This clientilist system began to change in the 1960s, with first the Lemass boom in the South, then the explosion in the North. The effects of these events on Southern politics are still being worked out to this day.

There have been two obvious shifts in the political sphere. One, that is worth examining but isn’t really relevant in this context, is the emergence of what were then called “Dublin liberals” (later Dublin 4) who were essentially a recrudescence of the old ‘West Briton’ tendency, with a little sexual permissiveness and a mild anti-clericalism grafted on. More to the point was the ‘de-republicanising’ of Fianna Fail, which was no longer a movement able to base itself on claims of national unity and independence, but a pragmatic party whose aim was to attract transnational capital to cover the failure of a national economy and a party that needed to stabilise partition so that it no longer represented a threat to the Free Stater society they had built. 

A new breed of politicians came with this change, the so-called “mohair suit brigade”, whom Charlie was held to epitomise. (It is doubtful that Charlie would ever have been so gauche as to wear a mohair suit, although Brian Lenihan certainly did.) Ironically enough, the arms trial gave Charlie a republican reputation, while in reality the whole leadership of Fianna Fail were united in finding ways of keeping the Northern troubles in the North.

In essence then, Fianna Fail minus its republicanism was left as little more than a venal kleptocracy, its politicians no longer national leaders but gombeen men on a grand scale. It must be pointed out that much of this shift took place under the sainted Jack Lynch, who famously sold Whiddy island to the oil companies for £100 a year.  Haughey’s takeover only accelerated a slide into blatant corruption that was already well underway. Let us also remember that Charlie was in many ways the most talented Irish politician of his generation, head and shoulders above almost anyone else you care to name – the fact that he was also unutterably crooked is not just a question of his own personal failings, but is emblematic of the Irish political class as a whole. Charlie just did things on a bigger scale.

Bertie comes not to praise Charlie, but to bury him

Which brings us to our own Hero from Zero, Charlie’s protégé Bertie Ahern. Bertie has had the unmitigated cheek to welcome Moriarty’s conclusions and attack Charlie’s corruption. Bear in mind here, it is only a matter of months since Bertie presided at Charlie’s state funeral, churning out fulsome praise of the Boss. Not to mention Bertie’s own receipt of monies from wealthy businessmen in unexplained circumstances. This is incongruous to say the least.

The incongruity is heightened by the fact that Bertie was co-signatory of Charlie’s party leader’s allowance account, and admitted to pre-signing cheques for him. Moriarty accepted Bertie’s protestations that he had not known what Charlie was up to, only saying that Bertie’s actions were imprudent and inappropriate. The public can draw their own conclusions as to how likely it was that Bertie was wholly unaware of his mentor’s venality.

But we can’t really blame Bertie for behaving like Bertie. Our Machiavellian leader will have calculated the benefit in the public odium over corruption being heaped onto the Boss, who is now safely dead. Plus, the phenomenal scale of Charlie’s corruption has the advantage of making Bertie’s own dig-out look like small change. The Dublin liberals’ demonology, which holds Charlie responsible for all the bad things in Irish public life, does have an implicit advantage for today’s FF leadership, who can plausibly – if incorrectly – assert that all that stuff is in the past. No it ain’t – at this point, corruption is so deeply ingrained in Irish politics, and not restricted to Fianna Fail either, that nothing short of tearing down the whole system will eradicate it.

The question for socialists is how a party that was led by the most corrupt politician in modern Irish history and is now led by his bagman, himself openly guilty of receiving corrupt payments, can be sailing for an easy victory in the forthcoming elections.  The simple answer is that there is no alternative.  The other capitalist parties, professing moral rectitude, are also corrupt.  The republican movement, unable to break from Charlie and from Irish capital even at the height of their uprising, have now capitulated to the point that they have adopted the programme of Irish capital and are transforming themselves into Fianna Fail óg.  The trade unions, unable even to build a reformist party of the working class and always linked to capital, surrendered without a shot being fired and joined the bosses’ offensive.

None of this was inevitable.  The alternative to the mass theft and corruption is the worker’s republic.  The fact that our rulers find it necessary to steal to gain their wealth shows how corrupt and shaky their rule is. 


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