The Mahon Report - Real lessons point to the future

“It is clear ... corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systematic. It affected every level of Government from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors and its existence a was widely known and widely tolerated.”

The Mahon Tribunal Report, March 22, 2012

So there it is; they all partied. Even though it’s taken 15 years and €300 million to publish these conclusions, and though in our heart of hearts we all suspected as much, the findings are still a shocking kick for the great majority of Irish people and politicians, who remain decent, more-or-less-honest citizens.

Most of us are realistic enough to accepted the humanity — and all that may bring — of our political leaders but we still hoped that, even if we knew they were not saintly, that they were more Dom Bosco than Don Corleone.

Yesterday’s Mahon Report disabused anyone who still imagined that Bertie Ahern. Padraig Flynn, Frank Dunlop, Ray Burke, the late Liam Lawlor, their supporting cast of party cappos, developers’ bagmen and palm-greasing builders were really in it for anything much beyond the brown envelopes.

Mahon uncovers the rotten heart of our debased political life and, specifically, the corrupt corrosive, cancerous culture that characterised so many of Fianna Fáil’s officer class. What was once a party of idealistic republicans had become a posse of grubby realtors and property-sector fixers for hire.

The grip of that cancer was so strong, so corporate, that many cabinet members, including leader and long-time Ahern loyalist Micheál Martin, attacked the tribunal’s integrity when Mr Ahern’s 13-day cross-examination began. Their shameful objective was simple — destroy the tribunal before it destroys them.

In this light Fianna Fáil’s and Mr Martin’s response, which is expected today, is a defining moment. Undoubtedly the words will be dramatic but actions would speak far more loudly. By close of business today we will have a good idea if the party can be, or is even worth, rescuing.

The report tells us that it cannot invest any credibility in evidence offered by Mr Ahern. It said that he failed to “truthfully account” for the sources of lodgements made to his bank account. The tribunal found that Mr Ahern failed to account for over IR£165,000 which passed through bank accounts connected to him in the early and mid-1990s. It did, however, stop short of saying he was corrupt.

“Much of the explanation provided by Mr Ahern as to the source of the substantial funds identified and inquired into in the course of the tribunal’s public hearings was deemed by the tribunal to be untrue,” said the report. It can’t be much plainer than that but it is far from plain if perjury charges will follow. However, the findings suggest that Mr Ahern might not be paid his tribunal expenses and that would be a significant blow.

Mr Ahern was not alone. Former minister and EU commissioner Pádraig Flynn “wrongfully and corruptly sought a substantial donation” from developer Tom Gilmartin for the party. Having been paid IR£50,000 for that purpose, Mr Flynn pocketed the money. He proceeded to “utilise the money for his personal benefit” part of which was used to buy a farm in Cloonanass, Co Mayo, in the name of his wife Dorothy. The report says Mr Gilmartin felt he had no choice if he was to stop politicians obstructing his plan for Liffey Valley shopping centre.

Basically, he was subjected to a shakedown by Mr O’Flynn who used the power of elected office to enrich himself. Is there a role for the Criminal Assets Bureau in this? If it is to stand for anything there must be.

It found too that developer Owen O’Callaghan made or authorised corrupt payments of almost IR£120,000 to politicians for support in rezoning of land at the Liffey Valley Shopping Centre. Mr O’Callaghan has said he intends to contest these findings, which he described as inaccurate.

It is small comfort that so many of those mentioned are no longer active in public life but if prosecutions are warranted they must be pursued. However, the great lessons point to the future. The report carries a range of recommendations that would go a long way to ensuring that such abuses might never recur. If they, or at least the majority of them, are not implemented then it would truly have been a waste of 15 years and €300m. That will only happen if we insist on it happening and apply the principles equally to our own lives.

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