August 2012        

Corruption in Irish politics: nothing changes

Corruption—when will we ever be rid of this huge problem in Irish politics? Since the revolution in 1916 and the subsequent giving away of the six counties in the North, the political parties have all had their fair share of corruption and fraud.
     Since the start of 2012 a few cases have come to public attention either through the courts or the Mahon Tribunal. In May this year a former Fine Gael councillor, Fred Forsey Jnr, was found guilty of accepting corrupt payments, relating to the proposed rezoning of 32 hectares of land near Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. In July a former Fianna Fáil councillor in Co. Offaly, Gerard Killally, admitted stealing from a court-appointed official assignee. He was a former general election candidate in 1997 and 2002 who stood along with the former Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
     In Clondalkin, Co. Dublin, a former Fine Gael councillor now independent, Therese Ridge, had findings against her in relation to the report of the Mahon Tribunal, along with the Fine Gael TD Olivia Mitchell, who accepted £500 from the convicted criminal Frank Dunlop.
     Ever since the foundation of the state, tribunals have played a part in the process of trying to weed out corrupt politicians and officials. One of the first was the Great Southern Railway Tribunal in 1943, set up to investigate dealings in the shares of the Great Southern Railway in what is now known as “insider trading.”
     It was discovered that information was given well in advance of Government plans to combine Great Southern Railway and Dublin United Transport Company into what is now CIE. This information was given to the Archbishop of Dublin, Bank of Ireland, and the Representative Body of the Church of Ireland. It was alleged that they made financial gains because they were aware of the merger long before it became public knowledge.
     We then had the Ward Tribunal of 1946 and the Locke’s Distillery Tribunal of 1947.
     The point I am making is that tribunals are not a recent phenomenon. One would be scared to think of what would happen if this state were to legislate for “mediated corruption,” as mentioned in Elaine Byrne’s wonderful book Political Corruption in Ireland, 1922–2010. This book defines mediated corruption as follows: “(1) The gain that the politician receives is political, not personal and it is not illegitimate in itself, as in the conventional corruption. (2) How the public official provides the benefit is improper, not necessarily the benefit itself, or the fact that the particular citizen receives the benefit. (3) The connection between the gain and the benefit is improper because it damages the democratic process, not because the public official provides with a corrupt motive.”
     This Government and other governments will take the high moral ground when speaking about corruption, but when it comes to enacting laws that could make a difference it does what most governments do—nothing.

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