‘Only the little people pay taxes’

RAY BURKE could elevate hubris into an art form.

When James Gogarty's allegations about corrupt payments of £30,000 made to him surfaced during the 1997 election campaign, Rambo rode out the controversy like he had rode out all rumour and innuendo (and a Garda investigation) that has surrounded his role in planning for years.

After the election, two endorsements of Burke's pedigree by Bertie Ahern would come back and haunt the Fianna Fáil leader.

The wholly inadequate investigation carried out by the party into the allegations paved the way for Mr Burke to be appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs. Dermot Ahern, Bertie Ahern memorably said, had been "up every tree in North Dublin". And then, when the allegations had taken on the momentum of a runaway train, forcing Mr Burke to resign as minister, Mr Ahern rounded on the opposition and the media for "hounding a decent man out of office".

Mr Burke's own self-serving oratory in the Dáil around that time showed him at his most brash and implacable.

With a straight face, he claimed that the £30,000 donation was the largest individual donation he had ever received. In another claim that came back like a boomerang to slap him in the face, he said he was drawing a line in the sand.

He didn't quite finish that sentence. It should have been: He was drawing a line in the sand on a beach about to be hit by a tidal wave.

For two years, Mr Burke delayed and obfuscated in supplying the then Flood Tribunal with details of his accounts and explanations for all the "political donations" he had received. And when he finally appeared, he blustered and brayed, losing none of the stonewalling qualities that had marked his time in politics.

But the incontrovertible facts emerged, in droves. The £30,000 donation wasn't the largest he had received, nor anywhere near it.

The builders Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan (George Redmond was another beneficiary of their largesse) paid a whopping £125,000 to him in offshore payments. He and they denied it until they were forced into admitting it by dint of the tribunal's investigative work. In fact, from 1975 to 1982, Burke was being paid £1,000 a month from them.

His explanation was that he was selling houses on their behalf. Burke's own salary as a TD in 1975 was only £2,000, an indication of the massive scale of the payments.

In all, during his most profligate period as the most influential councillor on planning matters in Co Dublin, Burke is said to have amassed a total of £350,000 a huge sum in today's terms. Predictably, he, like all the others on the take, quickly learned of the benefits of off-shore accounts, opening them in London and in the Isle of Man by using imaginative variations of his name.

His stance on paying tax was the same as disgraced American fraudster Leona Helmsley, who infamously said: "Only the little people pay taxes."

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