RTE Investigates – Facing up to corruption

The RTE Investigates programme looking at standards in public office left me shaking my head in bitter disillusionment. I know these characters exist. I know the majority of people in politics are still good and hard working. However, the bare faced cheek and dim witted approach these guys took suggests that the problem is deeper. It is rooted in the belief that they are playing a game and it’s all grand once you know how to pull a fast one.

I thought a lot of that was gone. While corruption might always be present where there is power one might expect that after all that has happened in Ireland these guys would be a little more ashamed and self aware. The winks and sly smiles only confirm that these are the very men who think they are one step ahead. Getting one over on their rivals. Playing the game. Making a buck.

In the late ’90s I was involved in Fianna Fail when the tribunals were raging and media breaking stories. After the Ray Burke story broke I sat in the foyer of the Longford Arms hotel with former Senator Mickey Doherty. None of us were friendly with Burke but we were talking about the damage the story was doing. I was annoyed but Mickey seemed to be just totally taken aback by it all. He said ‘I never saw anything like it. I mean you might help someone out with something and the following Christmas they might give you a bottle of whiskey but that’s about it.’

There has always been this division in politics. The guys who play by the rules and then the other guys who think they are smarter than that. After a while if you stay honest they begin to view you as a bit of a fool. Some kind of innocent. Not the real wheeler dealer. They are smart enough to ensure they keep their activities out of sight of those who might ‘rat’ them out. You might hear a rumour but they will never let you near their inner circle to see what’s actually going on unless you are made of the same attitude.

We need to face this problem. We need to tackle corruption. However, we need more than to just scream every time we see something happen. It is all too easy to use corruption as a political football. That helps nobody. When somebody who is not corrupt is accused of it then it only serves to make people think that others are innocent too. When the term is bandied about willy nilly in a ‘they’re all at it’ approach it gives cover to the real culprits that we need to root out.

I have never been a fan of the Mahon tribunal report. The McCracken and Flood reports laid down criteria on donations. However Mahon expanded this and ended up being utterly un-implementable unless we moved to full state funding of political parties and a complete ban on any private fundraising. After this the body politic lost its way. We desperately need to find it again. Strict and clear criteria need to be established as to what is and is not acceptable when seeking funds. SIPO and legislation must be the basis for this as opposed to what ended up coming from Mahon.

Politicians can and must grasp this nettle. For too long they have feared repercussions. No more can that be accepted. We need a range of censures. One might possibly overlook a declaration of something very small on a form and be reprimanded in a small way. However taking part in votes where you know you have a conflict of interest should carry a severe penalty.

Openly soliciting bribes should not only result in the loss of your seat but also criminal charges. Investigations like this challenge us as a society. It is normal to feel disheartened, disillusioned and fed up. Having spent all my life with politicians this is just the kind of nonsense that makes you want to walk away forever.

But we can’t. It’s our system and we must fight for it. We cannot leave it to chancers and spoofers to use as a little sideline. There are many good people in politics but they must now stand up and be counted even if that has consequences for them or those around them.

Johnny Fallon – Southern Editor 

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  • Robin Keogh

    Last night’s RTE programme was disappointing but sadly
    unsurprising and no shock that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael councillors are in the
    thick of it.

    Only last week an official (non party affiliated as far as I
    know)at Wicklow Circuit Court was found guilty of corruption. Allegations
    around corruption in planning against officials and elected representatives
    have been hanging like a dark cloud over County Wicklow for some time. In line
    with recommendations contained within the Mahon report, Sinn Fein have been
    pressing the government for a full investigation and the appointment of a
    planning regulator. Despite promises from government to implement these recommendations
    nothing has been done. As far back as May of last year, Mary Lou McDonald and
    Brian Stanley spoke in the Dail highlighting serious allegations in relation to
    planning matters in County Wicklow and further afield.

    Assuming neither the Labour Party nor Fine Gael have
    anything to hide, it beggars belief that these parties are refusing to get on
    with a process of investigation. Given the level of concern over alleged
    planning irregularities and given the fact that the government has committed to
    a full investigation; it is somewhat confusing that there has been no movement to
    date. What is being offered by the government is a pathetic lifeless and flimsy
    replacement to the standards in public office team which has little or no
    independence. The government parties have learnt nothing from the battery of
    scandals and investigations that have occurred over recent years.

  • Korhomme

    A friend also here in the ‘north’ thought once that he might retire to the ‘south’; he follows politics much more closely than I do. He decided against it, largely because of his perceptions of corruption.

    Anyone with an eye can certainly wonder just how so many people were able to build (blight) in the countryside, specially around the coast, with bungalows.

    But then, isn’t it said, “It’s not what you know, it’s not who you know, it’s what you know about who you know”.

    And, just where does this culture of corruption come from?

    Is the idea of the “cute hoor” particularly Irish?

  • mickfealty

    I’ve a slightly different take on it. I think some work needs to be done in removing any ambiguity from the regulations. Still, there’s always one bright spark who will pop up to insist on their own ignorance of the law (http://goo.gl/27IEvP)…

    https://twitter.com/BHayesCurtin/status/673990468464746496

  • mickfealty

    Perception of course if all Kor, but I do think you also have to factor in a much more proactive media in the south… It is shocking in way, that these conversations even took place.

  • Robin Keogh

    Ya well I guess putting stamps ‘on’ envelopes(SF) is probably more accpetable in the public eye than having cashed stuffed ‘in’ envelopes (FF)

  • Korhomme

    Back in the ’90s, Mick, I was in Dublin about once a month for meetings or teaching sessions at the College of Surgeons. I remember one occasion when we were discussing a breaking scandal – I don’t remember which one – when it was clear that all my colleagues seemed to know exactly what was going on, and who was involved. ‘Who?’ I asked. ‘CJ,’they said. And they were right.

    Is thee so much political corruption in the ‘north’ or is it just hidden better? I can only think of Irisgate, and golf courses at the Causeway where there have been mutterings.

  • chrisjones2

    If anything I think than NI is worse than in the republic and the devolution of planning to councils will make it all much much worse.

  • chrisjones2

    …and the two SF Councillors who were caught. Are they still members? Or were those just honest mistakes?

  • John Collins

    While studying for a degree in politics, as a seriously mature student, about a decade ago I was involved in a group that were debating the issue of corruption. I made the point that County Councillors or other local public representatives should not be the first port of call when an application for planning permission, social welfare or any other facility, that might be applied for from a government department, failed initially. I made the point that once a refusal was made one should have the right to ask an ombudsman, appointed for each area, to look into the case and his decision on the applications should be final. However the Professor involved said that this would be a defeat for the principle of local democracy. He did agree that decisions should be more transparent and reached more promptly which might alleviate the necessity for ‘going to your local councillor’. Overall I think politicians, and their parties, want to see these impediments to efficient decision making continued so as to justify their existence (as local politicians).
    The sooner the number of these ‘boys’ are grossly reduced the better.

  • Robin Keogh

    What are you talking about?

  • Tochais Siorai

    Johnny, I find it really hard to believe that the stories about Ray Burke were not widely known in FF. As far as back as 1973 he was the subject of a Garda investigation into who exactly paid for his house. Albert must have been aware of the stories and if he was, then surely someone as close to him as Mickey Doherty would’ve been as well?