Ben’s ‘mental blackout’ line would hardly get you past store security

IF YOU came out of Dunnes Stores with a bag of bananas unpaid for, it is highly unlikely that the security man would accept a plea of “mental blackout” in mitigation as you shrank with embarrassment in the street after being caught.

It might well be true, but while the security man may be no psychiatrist, he is more than aware that the Dunne family expects the highest standard of probity from its customers.

In other words, they’re expected to pay for whatever they take out of the store. How else could the Dunne empire have had a reputed multi-billion euro turnover last year.

Of course, having the odd £23 million in a tax bill written off helps, too.

While that 23 million punts bill - or nearly €30 million in today’s value - slid off the balance sheet a good few years ago, it has now re-emerged via the Moriarty Tribunal investigating whether former Taoiseach Charles Haughey doled out political favours in return for cash.

Although, the Dunnes Stores’ security man would hardly be expected to buy the “mental blackout” line from a woman (or man) with a purloined knickers and bra, the tribunal is asked to do so.

Not that lingerie is consuming the tribunal, but Ben Dunne’s memory - at least, his distant memory - is doing so. Mr Dunne cannot remember meeting the then chairman of the Revenue Commissioners, Seamus Paircéir, not once but three times.

Under normal circumstances, the fact that these meetings took place in 1987 might somewhat explain Mr Dunne’s lapse in memory, or his mental block, as he described it to the Moriarty Tribunal.

On the other hand, it could be reasonably argued that the fact that his family became £23 million (or €29.2 million) richer as a result of those meetings, by virtue of a reduced tax bill, should be a good aide-mémoire.

Another aid should be the fact that shortly after those meetings Ben happened to give Charlie Haughey £282,500 sterling (€421,285).

Possibly, Seamus Pairéir made absolutely no impression on the tycoon, to the extent that he can’t remember the meetings, or maybe he was overwhelmed by the charisma of the Squire of Abbeville.

The latter could well be true because the tribunal uncovered payments totalling £1.9m (€2.4m) from Mr Dunne to the former Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader between 1987 and 1993.

Mr Haughey, no doubt, became a firm believer in the company slogan because if anybody got ‘better value,’ he certainly did - and without even going shopping, so we are told.

Now, if the mental blackout line isn’t good enough for the security man in Dunnes Stores, I don’t think the Moriarty Tribunal could be expected to accept a lower standard. Maybe they should have called in Paul McKenna to jog Ben’s memory with a touch of hypnosis because there was absolutely no point in seeking the intercession of St Bernard.

Not so much a mental blackout as a mental aberration is about the only appropriate way to describe the decision by Shell to seek orders of committal against five men who wanted to block a pipeline going through their lands.

An order restraining obstruction of access to lands had been already issued by the High Court, so when the five men breached that order, Shell E and P Ireland, the developer of the gasfield at Rossport, Co Mayo, had every right to trigger the committal orders.

It was unfortunate that it did so because the five landowners claimed they were forced into their actions over concerns for the health and safety of their families.

Their concerns were such that they were prepared to go to jail. A lawyer for the company told the High Court that failure to adhere to construction deadlines could expose his client to losses of €25,000.

In at least one case, the gas pipeline is just 70 metres away from a protester’s house, a prospect that would give anybody serious cause for concern.

What is equally a matter for concern is that a multinational company is quite prepared to put the potential loss of a mere €25,000 above the genuine concerns of the protesters, and cause them the loss of their liberty for doing so.

Another aberration occurred this week with the passing by the Government of a bill which they knew will be useless to those it was intended to serve.

BUT what the Government also knew was that the Disability Bill could potentially save the Exchequer countless billions because it wasn’t allowed to deliver a Government commitment: that those people with disabilities would be entitled to services as a legally enforceable right, and not at the whim of the administration of the day.

The Government never had any intention of delivering that, and the enactment of a bad law proves they were more concerned with the financial implications than enshrining those rights in law.

In 2002, the National Disability Authority (NDA), which was set up by the Government because it pretended it would introduce equality legislation, decided that the person with the disabilities, and not the services, should be put at the centre of the proposed legislation.

It maintained, and rightly so, that funding and services would be allotted to individuals AS OF RIGHT. In that way they would be allowed to shop around and not be wholly dependent on one provider.

But the final and very conditional offer is that if the resources are available, then so will the services, but forget about being entitled to them as a matter of right.

There are more important things to spend the taxpayers money on, such as €93 million this year for ministerial spin doctors and experts; €15 million on an equestrian centre and €50 million on the aborted electronic voting non-system.

The Government has totally ignored the advice of its own advisory body for the simple reason it couldn’t care less for disabled peoples’ rights.

For the same reason it ignored the advice of retired High Court judge Fergus Flood who this week pleaded with them to scrap the Disability Bill.

He chaired the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, and he described the bill as “flawed”.

Mr Justice Flood said it should be replaced with a bill which would equalise the situation between disabled people and everybody else.

He was speaking at a protest meeting in Limerick organised by the Limerick Parents and Friends of the Mentally Handicapped, and put it quite succinctly when he said: “If they are going to legislate, let them legislate properly.”

What should happen is that when the bill goes before President McAleese to be signed into law, she should refer it to the Supreme Court because it is a measure that seeks to deny people their rights.

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