Beef tribunal: Hollow victory cost Reynolds dearly

Albert Reynolds was triumphant when the Beef Tribunal presented its final report in 1994, its 580 pages containing bizarrely benign conclusions about the key players under its scrutiny.

“I have been fully and totally vindicated, both personally and as a minister,” he told the Dáil.

“My decisions at the time, the report confirms, were taken in the national interest.”

However, it was a hollow victory for the then taoiseach as the tribunal had already cost him one government and was about to play a part in the collapse of another.

The inquiry was set up in 1991 after claims made in a BBC World in Action documentary of serious irregularities in Larry Goodman’s enormously lucrative beef empire.

Much of the discussion was about the relationship between Goodman and then taoiseach Charles Haughey in the late 1980s, but Reynolds, minister for industry and commerce at the time, was implicated too, particularly in leaving taxpayers open to massive liabilities by giving Goodman state-funded export insurance.

PD leader Des O’Malley by now in coalition with Reynolds’ Fianna Fáil, told the tribunal that Reynolds had been “grossly unwise, reckless and foolish”.

Reynolds hit back, accusing O’Malley of being “dishonest”. The coalition collapsed and a general election was called, following which Reynolds took a weakened Fianna Fáil back into government, this time with Dick Spring’s Labour.

Other factors came into play in the ending of that partnership — not least the amnesty for tax evaders, the Harry Whelehan affair, and the Brendan Smyth case, but the publication of the Beef Tribunal report also left a bad taste in Spring’s mouth.

Spring had been among the witnesses who gave evidence unfavourable to Goodman and it was difficult for him to take the report’s sympathetic conclusions and the comfort Reynolds took from them.

Amid irreconcilable differences, Reynolds resigned, the coalition collapsed and Fianna Fáil ended up in opposition to a rainbow coalition of Fine Gael, Labour and Democratic Left.

Reynolds found himself once again under scrutiny when he was called to answer allegations to the Mahon Tribunal that while on government business in New York in 1994, he collected $1m for Fianna Fáil, only a fraction of which ended up in party accounts.

There were further allegations from Tom Gilmartin that rival developer Owen O’Callaghan told him he gave Reynolds £150,000 in 1994.

Reynolds was excused from giving evidence when the issues were examined in 2008 after the tribunal heard he was suffering from serious cognitive impairment, and some of the allegations fell by the wayside.

However, the final report did conclude that he had abused his position as taoiseach by soliciting a donation from developer Owen O’Callaghan in return for supporting O’Callaghan’s national stadium proposal at Neilstown in Dublin.

He was also criticised for failing to act when he learned Mr Gilmartin had given a £50,000 donation to Pádraig Flynn in 1989, intended as a donation to Fianna Fáil, but which Flynn was accused of keeping.


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