Mahon: Corruption became 'acknowledged way of doing business'

Judge Alan Mahon’s verdict on corruption in politics couldn’t be more damning – it was deep rooted, rampant and permeated every level.

Judge Mahon asked why political corruption – an open secret in the late 1980s and early 1990s – was allowed, unabated.

“It continued because nobody was prepared to do enough to stop it,” he said. “This is perhaps inevitable when corruption ceases to become an isolated event and becomes so entrenched that it is transformed into an acknowledged way of doing business.

“Specifically, because corruption affected every level of Irish political life, those with the power to stop it were frequently implicated in it.”

The judge warned that general apathy among the public towards corruption meant insufficient pressure on politicians to root it out.

There were some good guys however – Judge Mahon credits former Green leader Trevor Sargent for helping expose the scandal at a council meeting by waving in the air a IR£100 cheque from a developer and claiming it to be “part of the corruption in here”.

He had to be escorted from the chamber for his own protection from other councillors.

Michael Smith, the apparently despairing environment minister in May 1993, described rezoning as a debased currency. He ended up having to explain himself to three angered, yet ultimately corrupt councillors – Colm McGrath, GV Wright and Cyril Gallagher.

In 1995 Michael Smith, former chairman of An Taisce, put an anonymous ad in the Irish Times offering a £10,000 reward for a conviction on corrupt land deals.

The tribunal warned corruption is a failing of individual morality but also a problem of systemic failure and issued the following recommendations to prevent a repeat:

:: Breaches of political ethics rules should be a criminal offence.

:: A new planning regulator to remove power from the Environment Minister to direct regional and local authorities. Councillors should also be told to explain the reasons for voting.

:: Politicians should be forced to disclose their interests within one month of election and update significant changes within 30 days.

:: There should also be a ban on gifts over a certain amount which could be reasonably considered linked to their office and a ban on politicians providing services for a public body while in office.

:: The Standards in Public Office commission should be allowed to take anonymous complaints and get more power to enforce conflicts of interest measures for TDs and councillors.

:: Political funding should be limited to 1,000 euro per member of a party.

Judge Mahon added: “Corruption, and in particular political corruption, is a deeply corrosive and destructive force.

“While frequently perceived as a victimless crime, in reality its victims are too many to be identified individually.

“Political corruption diverts public resources to the benefit of the few and at the expense of the many. It undermines social equality and perpetuates unfairness.

“Corruption in public office is a fundamental breach of public trust and inherently incompatible with the democratic nature of the State.”

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