No real interest in punishing wrongdoers

SOMETIMES, the circus gets out of hand. Last Sunday, a Government minister decried the slow rate of progress in criminal investigations into the banking collapse and the results from tribunal reports.

Pat Rabbitte told the Sunday Independent he finds the “interminable delay” in Garda investigations as “unconscionable”.

Later the same day another minister defended the slow progress. Alan Shatter, who oversees Justice, explained that due process was required.

The following day, it emerged that the gardaí’s hands are tied in one element of investigation. Padraig Flynn was deemed by the Mahon Tribunal to have corruptly received £50,000 from developer Tom Gilmartin in 1989. The money was intended by Gilmartin as a political donation for Fianna Fáil. The gardaí say they can’t investigate it unless the party complains that the money was stolen by Flynn.

By Tuesday, Fianna Fáil was running a mile from the whole thing. They don’t want anything to do with the sordid business of corrupt payments and chasing after Flynn.

So that puts the kibosh in the corruption surrounding Flynn. Will it be any different with anybody else suspected of criminality?

This State has a long record of offering impunity to the wealthy and powerful whenever they transgress, but of late a lot of people are getting hot under the collar about it. Well, where was everybody for the last 30 years?

The Beef Tribunal in the early 1990s uncovered major fraud. It led to minor criminal convictions for two management functionaries in the beef industry.

The Dirt scandal in the late 1990s was a fraud using bogus offshore accounts. All the major banks were up to their eyes in it. Not one criminal charge emerged from it. A gilded elite had their own offshore operation in the Cayman islands. At one stage, eight of the 15 directors of one of Ireland’s most successful companies, CRH, held accounts in the Ansbacher bank. Nobody who had anything to do with Ansbacher was ever brought before a court.

The Flood/Mahon and Moriarty Tribunals sat for a combined span of nearly 30 years and uncovered a number of prima facia cases of corruption and thievery. Just one successful prosecution has emerged. Frank Dunlop served a two year prison sentence for corruption. Notably, he pleaded guilty to the charges.

Former minister Ray Burke got six months after pleading guilty to tax evasion. The Planning Tribunal reported that Burke had been a kept man for most of his political career. His home was built by his sugar daddies, Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan. The report detailed a number of instances where Burke sorted out the two lads. Nothing came of it. Burke had been investigated three times by gardaí before the establishment of the tribunal. Nothing came of those probes either.

Charlie Haughey was shown to have misled the McCracken Tribunal in a manner that smacked of criminality. He bounded free after it was decreed by a judge that he would not receive a fair trial.

Away from politics, not one senior business figure has been before a court for any transgression. This is in stark contrast to most other developed democracies. There has not been one conviction for insider trading. We must have the most honest, incorruptible, morally superior business class in the whole world.

The case of Patrick Gallagher illustrates the state of impunity that has long existed for a certain caste in this country. Gallagher was a scion of a wealthy building and banking family. He also threw money towards maintaining Haughey’s lifestyle. In 1990 Gallagher was jailed in Northern Ireland for fraud. His crimes south of the border were far greater than the relatively minor infringements he had committed in the North. Yet down here, the idea that he might be charged, not to mind actually imprisoned for crime, was just laughable.

That’s the record that exists in this State. Then along comes a major economic collapse, and suddenly the citizenry are crying blue murder. Jail them! Get the bastards who are responsible for all this! What were the expensive tribunals all about! Jail them!.

And in response, the governing administration wrings its hands, affects the stance of the citizenry, and wonders why isn’t somebody paying the penalty.

It’s all a sham. For decades a symbiotic relationship existed in the State between business, politics and the gardaí.

One thing that has emerged unequivocally from the tribunals is that business lashed money on politics. The political parties maintained that there was no favours asked, none given. In fact, the party hierarchy were, we were told, unaware of where the money was coming from.

We now know this was hokum. Whether it was Bertie Ahern and Albert Reynolds tapping up Owen O’Callaghan — as revealed in Mahon — or various Fine Gael heads going cap in hand to Ben Dunne, as Moriarty reported, those who wielded power knew where their bread was buttered.

In such an environment, anything that inconvenienced business was given a wide berth. Regulation is an inconvenience. Rules which place major responsibility on big business to conduct themselves honestly are inconvenient. Punitive laws and sanctions are also inconvenient.

Independent TD Mick Wallace expressed it best in last month’s Dáil debate on Mahon.

“The relationship between politics and big business has been at the heart of a serious problem we have had in Ireland for a long time. Sadly, money has the power to separate the electorate from the legislature.

“The legislature is dominated by the ruling party, which is often financed by big business. The more money one has, the more likely one is to have a greater say in how things are done at Government level.”

So nobody who mattered ever as much has had their collar felt by the constabulary. It was corruption with a small c, or crony capitalism, where cronies were there to help each other, and who needs laws when everybody can be trusted not to do the dog on it. In such an environment, the gardaí had no role. The force had no corporate memory on which to draw when it was shaken into action in recent years. White collar crime involving important people and politicians is something completely new for the law enforcement agency.

Equally, the force knew to respect its betters until the recent upheavals. As Mahon revealed, a Garda investigation into Gilmartin’s allegations ran into the sand because there was no real interest in uncovering anything. The main suspect, Liam Lawlor, wasn’t even interviewed. Mahon said this was most “likely” because he was a TD.

The report also expressed itself “puzzled” that the cops went to great lengths to exonerate Lawlor and his confederate, George Redmond.

In a State where the Government appoint senior officers to their posts, such deference to all politicians may well have been inevitable.

And now everybody is shouting blue murder about white collar crime and the failure of the gardaí to act urgently as might be expected of an intelligent, experienced, modern police force.

How can they when they’re completely new to the job?

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