James Gogarty RIP - He did the State some service

IF ever an Irish citizen could justly quote the lofty sentiments of Shakespeare’s Othello and say “I have done the State some service”, it was James Gogarty.

The former executive of the JMSE construction group, who has died at 88, caught the imagination of the entire country when he lifted the lid on a sordid can of worms involving corruption in high places and widespread bribery of politicians by business.

It was Mr Gogarty’s bombshell revelations about his company’s bribing of former Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke which led to the planning tribunal that shone a spotlight into a murky world of land re-zoning, brown envelopes and back-handers.

Endowed with a ready wit and a refreshing capacity to call a spade a spade, it was his incisive and often entertaining evidence that exposed the greasy tentacles entwining politicians and businessmen.

In the process, he achieved hero status, drawing crowds to tribunal hearings as he bamboozled some of Ireland’s finest legal minds. Ironically, the aged businessman, who became such an iconic figure in the popular mind, might never have been a whistle blower if the construction company had given him a decent pension.

Thanks to his angry revelations, the public gaze was focused on the ineptitude of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s so-called investigation into allegations about Ray Burke.

Having famously “looked up every tree” in north Dublin in 1997, a pliant Taoiseach was more than happy to accept his friend’s word that there was no truth in rumours he was involved in corruption.

But as the dogs on the street could have told him, and as the Flood Tribunal soon established beyond any shadow of doubt, Ray Burke was up to his neck in corruption at the time, taking massive bribes from wealthy developers. Not only did the corrupt minister dishonour his office in government, he lied to the Dáil.

Inexplicably, Mr Ahern pressed ahead with the appointment even though former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds had warned him that “everything” he knew about Mr Burke indicated he was unsuitable for a Cabinet post.

Ironically, while the Taoiseach consulted the Garda Commissioner about the blizzard of allegations, the one man in the country who could so easily have supplied the facts was not approached by Fianna Fáil.

To this day, we have yet to hear a more plausible explanation for the Burke appointment than the Taoiseach’s assurance that his decision was based on his “undisputed political abilities”.

By all standards, and though he claims to have been ‘misled’, the Burke appointment ranks among the Taoiseach’s biggest blunders, contributing in no small way to public cynicism about politicians.

Having spent six months in jail for tax offences, Ray Burke features prominently in Ireland’s litany of political sleaze which also includes ex-Taoiseach Charles Haughey, Liam Lawlor, Denis Foley, ex-Fine Gael minister Michael Lowry, Dublin city manager George Redmond, and a long list of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael county councillors running to double figures.

Regrettably, the passing of James Gogarty makes it less likely anybody will ever face criminal prosecution for corruption uncovered by the Flood Tribunal. Nor is it clear if anyone will be charged with obstructing its progress.

Yet, any lingering doubts about the depth of sleaze in politics have been dispelled by the gritty evidence of a forthright man who said it as it was.

Required reading, the Flood report was snapped up by 20,000 punters. It remains a fitting monument to James Gogarty’s exposé of a squalid era of bribery and corruption in Irish politics and business.

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