It takes two to tango, so let's see some more corruption charges

WHILE it's some consolation to the public that Ray Burke won't be admiring the north Dublin trees for a few months, the fact remains that he'll make more money than most of us during his sojourn in Arbour Hill prison for tax offences.

The disgraced minister is in receipt of almost €90,000 in Dáil and ministerial salaries. Those positions of trust facilitated him in his criminal activities, and he will continue to be paid handsomely for them.

Under the relevant legislation which covers pensions for former TDs and ministers, it is hardly surprising that there is no provision for withdrawing a pension from an incarcerated criminal ex-minister.

It's hardly surprising because the legislation was sanctioned by politicians and they are not inclined to do anything that would upset their status quo. The pension of a convicted ex-minister is protected in this country, while it's open season on the pittance of medical card holders in nursing homes. Having illegally squeezed the pensions of public patients in nursing homes, the state offered a derisory sum in reparation when caught out, and promptly instigated legislation to make their robbery legal.

It's a pity that the Fianna Fáil - Progressive Democrats coalition would not immediately introduce legislation whereby any member of the Oireachtas would be debarred from profiting from illegal acts done while in office.

Ray Burke could still face other criminal prosecutions over the findings by the planning tribunal that he received a series of corrupt payments from wealthy businessmen in the late 1980s, as well as the fact that he had obstructed the work of the inquiry on 14 separate counts.

Judge Desmond Hogan, in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court, said Burke's offences warranted a term of imprisonment because he had committed a deliberate act which represented a major breach of trust because of his senior position in political life. While he is languishing in Arbour Hill prison, there are others still free to enjoy the exceptional good life Burke was used to.

They are the wealthy businessmen - corrupt wealthy businessmen - who benefited by feeding the greed of the likes of Burke. They are as guilty as he is and should be paraded in the same ignominy before the world on their way to jail cells which they richly deserve.

Burke is in jail because he evaded tax, but he was found to be corrupt by the planning tribunal. He was corrupt because there were those wealthy businessmen who saw in the politician a willing vehicle prepared to line his pockets with large amounts of money because he was in a position to do so.

Burke could not have become a rich man through abusing his position of trust unless there were those who were willing to exploit his greed for their own commercial interests. They are still there. And there will be another Burke because no matter what safeguards are put in place to try to ensure transparency and accountability by our public representatives and officials, they will not be able to contain human greed.

As far as that former minister for justice and foreign affairs was concerned, there was practically a litany of financial well-wishers ready to take advantage of his position of trust, and Ray Burke was not found wanting - apart from wanting more money.

*The tribunal deemed that Ray Burke got his house in Swords in a corrupt manner from property developer Tom Brennan, but no prosecution was sought against him.

*Another property developer, Joseph McGowan, along with Brennan, made a corrupt payment of £25,000 to the ex-minister. Again, no prosecution sought against him.

*Estate agent John Finnegan was found to have contributed a corrupt payment of £10,000 with McGowan and Brennan. No prosecution sought against him.

*Oliver Barry, businessman and owner of Century Radio, made what the tribunal found to be a corrupt payment of £35,000, and in response Burke proposed legislation to curb RTÉ advertising. Again, no prosecution.

*Property developer Joseph Murphy jnr made what was deemed a corrupt payment to Burke in a meeting set up in the knowledge of Joseph Murphy Snr, who is now deceased. No prosecution.

*Another property dealer, Michael Bailey, was present at a meeting in Burke's home when James Gogarty gave at least £30,000 to Burke on behalf of the Murphy brothers. The tribunal report noted that Bailey was seen passing another envelope to Burke believed to match the Murphy payment. No prosecution against Bailey.

Despite having avoided prosecution for such corrupt payments to Burke, they are not escaping justice entirely. Because their activities brought them to the attention of the tribunal, they have also attracted the notice of the Revenue Commissioners. On top of that, they also face multi-million euro legal bills.

Hopefully, they will reap every financial tribulation possible from the corrupt seeds they sowed in that shyster Burke. Money being the altar they worship at, it would be deliciously ironic if they ended up millions of euro worse off for the corrupt endeavours which were supposed to make them even richer men.

The jailing of Ray Burke was essential because it restores in the public mind a certain confidence in the system, that power and position can make someone immune to the rigours of the law.

We would not want to lose the run of ourselves and begin to imagine that this is the dawn of a new era. It's far from that, but the consequences which eventually caught up with Ray Burke might give pause for thought to some other politician or official, tempted by the lure of a few grand under the counter, or in a brown envelope.

Ultimately, Burke could lose more than a slice of his freedom. In the weeks and months ahead of him while he's doing his porridge, the not insignificant matter of his legal fees should occupy his thoughts.

Two years ago he submitted a bill of €10.5 million to the tribunal to pay his lawyers' costs, but this was rejected by the chairman of the tribunal, Judge Alan Mahon, on the grounds that Burke had set out to deliberately mislead the tribunal. He was able to do so by virtue of the Dáil passing retrospective legislation empowering him to decide on the matter.

It has been a source of annoyance to many that Burke has a couple of million in the bank, and that he can simply resume his lifestyle on his release from Arbour Hill. But the little matter of those fees means that life on the outside may never be quite so simple again. Lawyers are not known to be over the quota when it comes to the milk of human kindness.

About four years ago Ray Burke sold the most infamous address in Ireland - Briargate in Swords - for e4 million, which was a tidy sum seeing that he acquired the house through corrupt means back in the '70s. Now that the taxpayer won't be picking up the €10.5 million legal bill, it will be interesting to hear what the lawyers will settle for.

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