At long last, there are no more trees left for Burke to hide in

POSSIBLY the best piece of news that came over the radio for a long time was the announcement that Ray Burke was handed a tax bill for 2 million.

Smiles broke out as people interrupted their lunchtime sandwich to listen to the bulletin and realised that, after all, there is a God.

The reaction to the former minister facing his comeuppance at long last was like a breath of fresh air over the nation, especially coming on the heels of George Redmond being successfully prosecuted last week for corruption.

So, Ray Burke will finally discover that it's not "only the little people pay taxes," a creed he has long abided by.

Apart from the 2 million tax bill from the Criminal Assets Bureau, he could also possibly face criminal charges for corruption.

He can, of course, appeal the bill and has just under a month to do so, but if he does the onus will be on him to show that the demand is unfair.

Alternatively, he can appeal to the good nature of the Revenue Commissioners, make a settlement, and then go through the courts if that is not to his liking.

If he opts for that route and the court decision goes against him, his assets can be seized if he cannot pay in cash.

No matter which way he looks at it, Mr Burke is in a bind a big one.

It will take a lot of inventive planning to extricate himself from this and all his experience in that area will not do him a whole lot of good.

And pondering this dilemma, too, will be Taoiseach Bertie Ahern who, on more than one occasion, gave the former minister such glowing references.

Notably, when the Fianna Fáil party was supposed to have carried out an exhaustive investigation of Mr Burke, the Taoiseach declared that he had "looked up every tree in North Dublin" but he obviously missed a few.

Mr Ahern is a lucky man that he has the well-paid job he has, but if and when that luck runs out, he would be well advised not to try his hand as a private eye.

Magnum PI he certainly is not.

The purpose of that cosmetic exercise was to facilitate the appointment of Ray Burke as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

When the affairs that were not that foreign to him eventually caught up with him, Burke had to resign as a minister.

Still, even at that stage, the Taoiseach resolutely stood by his old buddy.

When Mr Burke resigned in September, 1997, Bertie Ahern staunchly defended him. He told our national parliament: "In the case of Ray Burke, I see a much more sinister development, the persistent hounding of an honourable man to resign his important position of the basis of innuendo and unproven allegations."

The Taoiseach had to swallow that statement when, within a year, he sheepishly admitted on September 30, 2002: "We were deeply upset by what Ray Burke was involved in... we feel let down and betrayed."

That sense of betrayal was followed the very next month by another instalment from the Taoiseach about the "honourable man".

He had to tell the Dáil: "It is now clear that I was misled, as was this House, by Ray Burke."

Imagine that Ray Burke had misled him!

You wouldn't find that script in the likes of Coronation Street, and that soap opera defies imagination.

In fact, you wouldn't find this Government in any episode of the same soap, because people can only suspend their disbelief up to a point.

The latest headlines about Ray Burke serve to remind us if we need reminding of a particularly odious era this country went through insofar as corruption and abuse of power for personal gain is concerned.

THE scale on which he operated can be gauged from the fact that way back in 1975, when he was on a salary of £2,000 as a TD, he was being paid £1,000 a month by builders Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan.

That nice little earner continued for seven years.

The Burke tax bill goes back as far as the '80s. The Flood Tribunal found he had received corrupt payments over three decades, and that he had also obstructed the work of the tribunal.

The CAB trawled through 20 years of his imaginative accounting, and it proved to be more efficacious than Bertie Ahern's abysmal efforts at investigations.

As a result of the thorough and fastidious scrutinising by the CAB, the disgraced former minister now faces a very considerable tax bill and nobody outside his immediate family will have a jot of sympathy for him.

The Ray Burkes and Liam Lawlors of this world for too long believed themselves to be above the laws of this land, and acted accordingly with an astonishing arrogance and contempt for those laws.

That those laws can now be used to bring them to book is poetic justice.

It was a long time coming, but arrive it did, and they should not escape the most severe measures that can be meted out to them.

The same laws should be applied stringently to those found guilty of corrupting politicians and officials because without their readiness and enough money to bend the planning laws, it would not have happened, at least not on the scale we now know about.

Tribunals are an expensive way to investigate corrupt practices, but at least they are beginning to pay off, even though the culprits have been getting away with their nefarious activities for years.

The bonus is that the CAB, with its very effective powers, can make those who have enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle from their ill-gotten gains fork out ultimately, either through hard cash or by seizing their assets.

They haven't got the money yet from Ray Burke and the next month will tell a lot, but it certainly will not be a merry Christmas for him.

He faces the prospect of possibly having to sell his house, but even if he has to, I doubt somehow that Mr Burke will ever be found sleeping on the side of the street.

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