Corruption Culture – The only crime is getting caught

Dan Boyle argues that the revelations in the recent RTE Investigates programme into corruption at council level are just another nod to a long standing culture that is defensive and unwilling to see the obvious reality.

Early during the life of what was then the Flood Tribunal, evidence was given that implicated Frank Dunlop as a bagman for the noted Cork businessman, Owen O’Callaghan. Whether this was done knowingly or unknowingly remains a matter of contention between the two men.

The money existed to bring about a favourable conclusion in zoning and planning for Mr. O’Callaghan’s company, particularly for its proposed development of a shopping centre at Liffey Valley in west Dublin. In Cork a tendering process made Mr. O’Callaghan the preferred bidder (without having made the highest bid) for a shopping centre to be built at Mahon. At a subsequent City Council meeting I asked the question, that given the evidence presented at the Flood Tribunal, it should not be asked if any member of the Cork council had received payments from a Frank Dunlop like figure.

The asking of the question created uproar. How dare I impugn the collective integrity of my fellow councillors. The most apoplectic sounds came from the Fine Gael benches. The party (falsely in my view) had/has electorally traded on being morally pure. Their affront was the greatest. A vote of censure was proposed against me which succeeded by thirty votes to one, my own integrity saving vote of course.

Sadly little has changed since then, in that the instinct of the traditional political system is to defend its collective honour, rather than admit that corruption exists in any form, needing to be quashed.

The Flood/Mahon tribunal has been much maligned. It was probably structured not to achieved its hoped for goals. It went on far too long. It sustained many in the legal profession in a manner they should never been accustomed.

And yet people did go to prison. For the first time members of the Dáil, including a former government minister. More money was collected in taxes and fines than it cost to establish the tribunal. If latter legal machinations now mean that most involved can clutch a badge of innocence to their breasts, it was still a very worthwhile exercise.

Fine Gael seems to have developed a collective amnesia, that the tribunal report showed its public representatives were as much to the fore as Fianna Fáil’s, in practicing graft. If Fine Gael could pretend that Flood/Mahon was Fianna Fáil’s problem, they certainly couldn’t have been as blasé about the Moriarty Tribunal which followed. But they have been. This government’s indifference to the publishing of the findings of the tribunal’s report has been stunning in its audacity.

Moriarty has almost exclusively been Fine Gael’s baby. The awarding of the State’s second mobile phone licence, was found to have been made by a Fine Gael minister in a Fine Gael led government, after improper payments were made on behalf of the successful bidder.

This bidder, well known to us all, has shown himself to be quite fond of our legal system. In seeking to threaten those who quote from the report of the tribunal, he has been strangely shy to take on the Tribunal itself in court.

The government’s indifference to Moriarty, has meant that no prosecution has yet follow. It has meant that individuals, shown to have made improper payments, have remained free to conduct and profit from continued business with the State. Could this happen in any other State that claims to have high standards of political ethics?

This is the culture that all too sadly persists in our political system. It allowed RTE Investigates this week to expose the shallow graft of some, but still too many, in our local government system. These now pilloried pillars of our community have done what they’ve done because they could. Because in relation to corruption in Irish politics the only crime is getting caught. Our institutions will continue to be reactive rather than proactive in identifying and dealing with corruption. Because anything other than that would change the very nature of our politics, and we can’t be having that.

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.