Seven days ago, Elaine Byrne finally got the review her important book on the history of political corruption in Ireland really deserved in the Irish Times by Fintan O’Toole. In that review he notes.
…impunity is not just legal but can also be moral, social and political. Kohl, the man who unified Germany, was destroyed, humiliated and ostracised. Here no great shame is attached to adverse findings from a tribunal. The two central figures in the grim story of the second mobile-phone licence, Denis O’Brien and Michael Lowry, are thriving. Lowry increased his vote in the last election; O’Brien has his photograph taken with the Taoiseach and is becoming the most dominant media owner in the history of the State.
The initial indulgence of Mick Wallace by the Dail’s technical group (the Irish legislature’s very own rainbow alliance) is a good example of that principle of impunity at play. Stephen Collins:
It should not be forgotten that former TD and minister Ray Burke, who resigned his cabinet post and his Dáil seat in 1997 when the media exposed details of “donations” he had received from business, was actually sentenced to six months in jail for filing a false tax return.
Even more to the point, businessman Paul Begley was given six years in jail earlier this year for failing to pay VAT of €1.6 million on imported garlic.
The way in which Wallace appears to be facing no sanction of any kind represents a glaring discrepancy between the treatment of a member of the Dáil and that of an ordinary citizen.
The Wexford TD insists he did not have a lavish lifestyle and that this should be a mitigating factor in the reaction to his tax problems.
The lifestyle argument is one that was frequently put forward on behalf of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern when questions arose about his personal finances. Ultimately Ahern’s lifestyle was found to be irrelevant to the questions at issue and the planning tribunal drew its own conclusions.
The public will now await with interest to see what sanction, if any, will apply to Wallace. Those who are normally the first to demand high standards appear to have abandoned them when the finger is pointing at one of their friends.
It is not only Mick Wallace whose credibility has been undermined by this sorry episode.