Damning verdict on our political culture

Judge Alan Mahon’s verdict on corruption in Irish politics could not 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 continue 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.

However, there were some good guys: Judge Mahon credits former Green leader Trevor Sargent for helping to expose the scandal at a council meeting by waving in the air a £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.

The tribunal 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.

* There should also be a ban on gifts over a certain amount.

* 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 per member of a party.

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

“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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