The mind boggles at what could be considered unbecoming conduct, because the party has demonstrated that it is prepared to betray all responsibility in its efforts to retain power.
In the late 1980s Charles Haughey used the Leader’s Fund to launder money on his own behalf, thanks largely to the behaviour of Bertie Ahern. From 1984 to 1992 the state contributed £1.05m to the Leader’s Fund, and Haughey topped it up to £1.5m with money donated for Fianna Fáil, or for the expenses of the late Brian Lenihan’s liver transplant in the United States.
At least £155,000 was donated to cover those medical expenses. While £83,000 was paid out towards those expenses, Haughey retained the remainder – over £70,000 – for his own use.
Checks drawn on the leader’s fund required a second signature to ensure that everything thing was above board. But Bertie Ahern facilitated Haughey by signing a whole book of blank cheques. Thus, there were no effective control on Haughey. He was able to use cheques signed by Ahern to rob the leader’s fund by entertaining his fancy woman and others with extravagant dinners and lavish wines at Le Coq Hardi, and pay £15,832 for Charvet shirts, as well as diverting money to pay his own household bills.
Poor Ahern did not realise that Haughey was a financially dodgy character. Yea, pull the other one! “Fool me once, shame on you,” Éamon de Valera used to say. “Fool me twice, shame on me.” How many times was Bertie Ahern fooled? Tom Gillmartin testified that he told Bertie Ahern in 1989 that he gave Pádraig Flynn £50,000 for Fianna Fáil. Flynn kept that for himself, and Bertie did nothing about it. Ray Burke was so dodgy that he was actually jailed, but not until after Bertie had defended him stoutly. He gave Burke a clean bill of health saying that he had investigated rumours about him thoroughly – going so far as to look up every tree in North Dublin. He then appointed Burke to the cabinet.
In December 2005, Callely was forced to resign as a Minister of State after it was disclosed that he got his house painted for free in the 1990s by a building contractor involved in public contracts. This was not considered action unbecoming a member of Fianna Fáil, because his vote was needed by the party in the Dáil at the time. Moreover, the party nominated him to stand again at the next general election.
Even though he had received the fifth highest vote in the country in the 1997 general election, and he got the highest vote in the country in the local elections two years later, he lost his Dáil seat in 2007. He then ran for the Seanad, but he was again defeated.
Nevertheless, Ahern appointed him to the Seanad. Sure, Ahern had been receiving “dig-outs” himself. Was there any real difference between those and Callely getting his house painted? Should anybody really be surprised at Callely’s subsequent behaviour? He claimed expenses for travelling to Leinster House from his west Cork holiday home while he was actually living in Dublin. For this he has been suspended for 20 sitting days of the Seanad.
Beverly Cooper-Flynn facilitated tax evasion and then sued RTÉ for libel, because it reported the facts of the case. She lost, but RTÉ only compelled her to pay €1.24m of the €2.4m she owed the station in costs.
She may not have been able to pay the whole bill at the time, but she could have been compelled to pay it off over a number of years. If she refused, she could have been put into bankruptcy, and would thus have lost her Dáil seat, but Fianna Fáil would have one vote less in the Dáil. Did the government put pressure on RTÉ to back off Cooper-Flynn? Of course, she should have known that Fianna Fáil would go to great lengths to ensure she retained her vote. In 1989 Haughey had provided Deputy John Ellis with £26,000 from the Leader’s Fund to help him stave off bankruptcy. Moreover, National Irish Bank was persuaded to write off a debt of £263,540 owed by Ellis. Nobody in Fianna Fáil seemed to see anything wrong with such behaviour.
Des O’Malley was expelled from the party for “conduct unbecoming a member” in 1985. Although the party prides itself as “Fianna Fáil: The Republican Party,” its republican credentials are seriously suspect. It provided the Roman Catholic hierarchy with a virtual veto over government policy.
In fairness, it should be said that Fine Gael was even worse, but Garret FitzGerald did try to change things in the early 1980s. He sought to amend the Family Planning Act so that people could buy non-medical contraceptives, such as condoms, without a doctor’s prescription. When members of the Catholic hierarchy vociferously opposed the new bill, a number of Fine Gael and Labour deputies threatened to vote against the measure.
In the circumstances there was a real chance that the government would be defeated. But Des O’Malley spoke out in support of the bill. He told the Dáil that he was appalled by the content of the debate during the Mother and Child controversy of 1951.
That was when the Taoiseach John A Costello effectively admitted that he had been summoned to meet the Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who complained that Health Minister Noel Browne had walked out of a meeting with the bishops the previous day. “I asked his Grace to permit me to try to adjust the matter with my colleague,” Costello told the Dáil. “His Grace readily gave me that assignment and that authority.”
THE Taoiseach actually had the craven temerity to tell the Dáil that he had asked the Archbishop of Dublin for permission to talk to one of his own ministers!
“It is incredible that members of this House and of the government of the day could be as craven and supine as they were, as we look back on them now,” O’Malley told the Dáil. “Has the atmosphere changed?”
The unelected Catholic hierarchy was opposing the proposed legislation, and the whole thing was threatening to bring down the government. This challenged the very core of republicanism.
“I do not believe that the interest of this State, of our Constitution and of this Republic, would be served by putting politics before conscience in regard to this,” O’Malley explained. “There is a choice of a kind that can only be answered by saying that I stand by the Republic and accordingly I will not oppose this Bill.”
He therefore abstained from the vote. Standing by the Republic was considered “conduct unbecoming a member” of Fianna Fáil, and he was expelled from the party.
Over the recent decades the party, which promised zero tolerance, has demonstrated that it will tolerate virtually any behaviour from members in order to preserve its vote in the Dáil. It is currently refusing to hold three necessary by-elections, because the polls clearly indicate that Fianna Fáil would be hammered.
In the process the party is not only subverting the Constitution but also betraying the Republic and democracy itself.