An attempt to gloss over past misdeeds would kill the Coaltion at birth

 Flood/Mahon, McCracken, Morris and Moriarty. The litany of judges’names associated with, shall we say, doubtful practices starkly exposes the desperate  need for reform in the Republic’s body politic, even if the property bubble had never burst. Dubious practices were not the sole prerogative of Fianna Fail. Moriarty’s long list of conclusions, produced at a cost rivalling the Saville Inquiry’s, was as shocking as it was expected.  While civil servants insisted their advice was not compromised, Moriarity finds that minister Lowry “secured the winning” of the  national telecomms licence for Denis O’Brien’s Esat Digifone. A personal payment of £147,000 was made to  the minister in office (though handed back the next year).   Fine Gael, then as now the lead party  in coalition, is found guilty of “ gross  impropriety” for accepting a $50,000 donation from Mr O’Brien.  O’Brien denies wrongdoing.  Predictably Vincent Browne is unsparing in the Irish Times.

THE MORIARTY tribunal report seriously compromises this Fine Gael-Labour government. Nine of its cabinet ministers were part of the government that was in situ in 1996 when it (the then government) approved the awarding of the second mobile phone licence to Esat Digifone, the company then led by Denis O’Brien…

And to underline this further humiliation for the nation, the person who is identified as the instigator of these malpractices, Denis O’Brien, happens to be the dominant figure in the Irish media industry (aside from RTÉ), with effective or incipient control of Independent News and Media (INM), the largest newspaper corporation by far on the island, and of a plethora of radio stations.

What prospect is there that the media under his control will hold him properly to account for what has been revealed?

Well, at least that charge may not stick. Browne acknowledges that the Indo’s Sam Smyth was one of the trailblazers on the story. And turning to the Indo today, the paper is pretty clear.

Both Mr Lowry and Mr O’Brien have rejected the findings. Mr O’Brien last night denied making any payments to the former minister.

Mr Justice Moriarty concluded that a series of payments for the benefit of Mr Lowry were made by Mr O’Brien, who had a 40pc stake in Esat, after the licence was awarded. All of the payments were routed through intermediaries, according to the tribunal findings.

 How seriously is the new coalition compromised? It cannot be allowed to fail, to borrow a phrase from the international banking crisis. There must be no wriggling, no  delay, no ducking.  It seems too early to talk about prosecutions but these should surely be considered. A carefully drawn butunimpeded Dail inquiry must surely follow any decision either way on prosecutions. The State cannot afford to wait years while any legal action grinds its way through the courts. Among the basic outcomes must be that the ministers involved  make full disclosures about their role, unless this would incriminate them;  that wholesale reform is needed to disclose and limit party donations; and that new transparent rules should be put in place for the conduct for ministerial decision taking – beginning now.    

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • Munsterview

    In the Southern Political divide, Fine Gael on average represents ‘Old Money’ and their wealthy class are consequently more conservative in their market dealings. However as the charges against Liam Cosgraves own son for Corruption show, some scummed to the allure. Fine Gael reveled in Michael Lowery when his star was in its zenith as ‘Our Charlie Haughey !’

    John Bruton is in serious contention as a Fine Gael candidate for the Southern Presidency. When one of his councillors went to him as Taoiseach with allegations of fellow councillor corruption and bribe taking in the planning process,( by then in Dublin it was a conveyor belt system, agree the value of a vote, vote through rezoning at a meeting and collect the bribe from Frank Dunlop in the pub around the corner after the meeting) the he infamously retorted, as later reported in the Irish Times that ” Fine Gael are not a party of altar boys”

    Bribery and corruption became such a part of functioning politics in the South at that period that any serious developer and their political facilitators had to engage in the practice to get results. While they were not ‘all at it’ as Fianna Failed try to imply, Fine Gael did produce enough Lowery types to prove John Brutons contention that Fine Gael was not indeed ‘a party of altar boys’

    The exploits toleration of ‘drunk and incapable’ Fine Gael Ministers by Cosgrave, Garret and Bruton was legendary in the press core even by the drinking standards of that same body. The antics of Donegan and Cooney also showed that Fine Gael could produce Ministers capable of acting as disgracefully in his office as the worst offenders in Fianna Failed.

    The biggest hypocrisy of the Bruton period was the public stance that he took in regard to Prove Republicans while in security briefings he got as Taoiseach in waiting, he was made fully aware of the backgrounds of certain people that he appointed to government afterwards.

    Indeed Bruton was in Government himself and so had the inside track on the ‘fundraising’ and other activities of organizations these people controlled and were part of Power had a price and he paid it without a blink! Fine Gael as a party and the top tiers of it are far from having lily white political hands or being the new brooms that the profess to be.