Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Tag: Charles Haughey

Coronavirus and Cronyism: Ireland

This article appeared in Ceylon Today on September 4 2020

 

https://ceylontoday.lk/news/crony-ireland

 

I have often had occasion to chide some Sri Lankans about their masochistic propensity to  tout their homeland as a land like no other when it comes to nepotism, corruption, and venal politicians whose main aim is to feather their own nest rather than to meet the needs of the constituents they are rewarded handsomely to serve. The malign efforts of Sri Lankan politicians are dwarfed by the truly monumental corruption to be witnessed in the US. In the UK, the government is taking advantage of the pandemic to hand out contracts to political supporters who have no experience in epidemiological matters and the prime minister is packing the upper chamber with cronies and donors. He has even given a peerage to his own brother.

My passport is an Irish one. There are many things about Ireland of which I am proud. It has to be said that the amount of political corruption that Ireland has experienced is rather impressive for a nation of only 4.1 million people.

Ireland currently finds itself at a respectable No. 18 in the Corruption Perception Index (CPF) and it has hovered around that position for many years. Since the bad old days of Charles Haughey, there has been a general recognition that to retain its attractiveness to foreign investors, the Irish state needed to tackle a culture of corruption. The ‘brown envelope’ (or bribing of planning officials) has long been a feature of Irish life. Gombeenism describes the kind of parish-pump, pork-barrel politics in which those elected to be legislators devote themselves to cronyism and self-aggrandisement rather than honestly representing their constituents’ interests.

It is a matter of public record what a Taoiseach (or Irish Prime Minister, pronounced ‘tea-shock’) earns. On this fairly modest amount, Charles Haughey enjoyed an opulent lifestyle, including an opulent but unfortunately garrulous mistress, who even more unfortunately, was a sociable and bibulous journalist.

The McCracken Tribunal in 1997 unearthed illegal payments by businessmen into offshore accounts and Haughey faced criminal charges for obstructing the tribunal. It reported that the bribes, “when governments led by Mr Haughey were championing austerity, can only be said to have devalued the quality of a modern democracy”.

The supermarket tycoon Ben Dunne of Dunne’s Stores, on a cocaine-fuelled night in Miami, confessed to hooker about bribes he had paid Charlie as he tried to throw himself out of a hotel window. (A t-shirt popular in Ireland at the time bore the slogan: “Ben there, Dunne that, bought the Taoiseach”).

The tribunal concluded that Haughey had received around GBP 10 million from businessmen. A significant portion of funds donated for a liver-transplant operation for his former colleague Brian Lenihan was misappropriated by Haughey for personal use. Charlie’s protégé and successor Bertie Ahern presided as the youngest-ever Taoiseach over a booming Irish economy and helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. Ahern signed the cheques from the Lenihan account, and this and other matters from the past came back to haunt him, forcing Ahern to set up the Mahon Tribunal which brought about his downfall.

The Haughey case was a tipping point. For a long time, Charlie got away with it even though it was common knowledge what he was up to. There was even a measure of affection for his rascality; he was called “a cute hoor”. It is difficult to sustain this when the people are suffering and the politicians are wallowing in the trough. One definition of corruption is “the misuse of entrusted power for private gain”. For ordinary citizens, it is more up-close and personal than an abstract definition. It means citizens struggling to get what should be their right. ‘Speed money’ to fast-track public services might be seen as being akin to tipping a waiter at a restaurant, but this is part and parcel of a toxic culture.

The Irish tribunals made a difference, in that they undermined the public’s tolerance for unethical behavior, and they destroyed the culture of silence in the process. Senior politicians such as Prime Ministers Haughey (death saved him from criminal conviction) and Ahern, Foreign Minister Ray Burke (who was jailed), and EU Commissioner Padraig Flynn and his daughter, minister Beverley Flynn (who was working for a bank when, in the Hiberno-English phrase, “the firm’s cash got mixed up with their own”) were named and shamed – and they paid the price.

That the arrogance has not departed from the Irish political mindset was demonstrated by recent events. I described in these pages the furor that erupted when the parliament’s golf club decided to hold a shindig in total disregard of the rules ordinary people were trying to follow to control the spread of Covid 19. As usual, Fintan O’Toole nails it: “They didn’t see the obvious because they didn’t think they had any obligation to be aware of where they were and what they were doing.”

There were 81 people at the function, plus staff and management. There were other hotel guests who did not attend the function. One of them phoned into a radio programme and said that he had sneaked a look at the table plan for the golf club function. When he went up to his own room, he said to his wife: “There’ll be trouble with this one.”

There were ten tables. At the “captain’s table” was Noel Grealish, Galway West TD (MP) and captain of the golf society; minister for agriculture Dara Calleary and his wife, Siobhán (he resigned); and EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan (he resigned). Former Fianna Fáil minister Noel Dempsey and his wife, Bernadette, were there too.

At other tables were former Fianna Fáil TD and senator Donie Cassidy, president of the golf society. Cassidy resigned as vice-president of Fianna Fáil following the controversy. The society’s 50th anniversary event was a tribute to the late Mark Killilea, a founding member of the group and former Fianna Fáil MEP. Fianna Fáil minister and property developer Frank Fahey was also at this table. Former RTÉ radio presenter Sean O’Rourke was at another table of eight. RTÉ cancelled a number of future projects with O’Rourke, which had included a planned weekend politics show.

Also, at the table were Senator Paddy Burke and councillor Enda McGloin, who both lost the Fine Gael whip as a result of their attendance. Dr Michael Harty, former TD and chair of the Oireachtas health committee, was also at the table. John Flaherty, captain of the guard at Leinster House, who is responsible for health and safety in the Houses of the Oireachtas was there.

 

Supreme Court Judge and former attorney general Séamus Woulfe, who had until very recently been the State’s chief law officer overseeing the drafting of the regulations was there. He is now  facing a review by former chief justice Susan Denham into whether he should have attended the event.

Guests at Woulfe’s table included Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer, who resigned as Leas Cathaoirleach (deputy speaker) of the Seanad, over the affair. Also at the table was former Independent TD Paudge Connolly,  now a Monaghan county councillor. He had recently been playing golf in Spain so should have been in quarantine.

 

At Table 9 was former Fianna Fáil minister of state with responsibility for older people Áine Brady and her husband, Gerry, also a former Fianna Fáil TD for Kildare.  Brady is chief executive of Third Age,  an organisation that supports older people in Ireland. Among the guests listed at Table 10 was Loman Dempsey,  a property consultant and brother of former Fianna Fáil government minister Noel Dempsey. His response to enquiries by the Irish Times was: “You are hounding everybody, so no comment and goodbye”. Martin Brett, Deputy chairman of Kilkenny County Council,  who was also at this table said attendees were being wrongly “pilloried” and anyone who resigned over the scandal should be reinstated.

Among those attending were people who had a hand in writing the guidelines they were themselves breaking; there was a doctor, former chair of the parliamentary health committee; there was the CEO of a charity for older people; there was the man responsible for health and safety in parliament; there was an experienced broadcaster known for his incisive questioning of hypocrisy. Fintan O’Toole: “Did they not grasp how profoundly insulting so many people found the idea that someone who set the rules could make an exception for himself? Did that not lodge somewhere in the well-developed part of their brains that deals with self-preservation – I’d better not do that anyhow? “

The Sri Lankan people strongly stated that they were unhappy with what the politicians had done after 2015. There are high expectations of the new government. Politicians should heed the consequences of the arrogance of the great and good in Ireland.

Lessons from Ireland

This article appeared in the November 2008 edition of LMD (Lanka Monthly Digest) with the strapline: “Michael O’Leary recounts Ireland’s battles with corruption, which tarnished the offices of two of its Prime Ministers”.

 

Corruption thrives everywhere in the world. It is endemic in the US through what are known as ‘earmarks’ or ‘pork’. The saga of the ‘Alaskan Bridge to Nowhere’ has forced one US Senator to face criminal charges while the Republican Vice- Presidential candidate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, is now also implicated.

 

Ireland finds itself at a respectable No. 17 in the Corruption Perception Index (CPF) while the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) places it at the top of its Quality Of Life Index. Ireland has the world’s fifth-highest

GDP, although world conditions are currently de-fanging the Celtic Tiger. There has been a general recognition that to retain its attractiveness to foreign investors, the Irish state needed to tackle a culture of corruption. The ‘brown envelope’ (or bribing of planning officials) has long been a feature of Irish life – politicians at all levels have had a tendency to confuse party funds with their own personal income. ‘Gombeenism’ describes the kind of parish-pump, pork-barrel politics in which those elected to be legislators devote themselves to cronyism and self-aggrandisement rather than honestly representing their constituents’  interests.

 

It is a matter of public record what a Taoiseach (or Irish Prime Minister, pronounced ‘tea-shock’) earns. On this fairly modest amount, Charles Haughey enjoyed an opulent lifestyle. The McCracken Tribunal in 1997 unearthed illegal payments by businessmen into offshore accounts and Haughey faced criminal charges for obstructing the tribunal. It reported that the bribes, “when governments led by Mr Haughey were championing austerity, can only be said to have devalued the quality of a modern democracy”.

 

The tribunal concluded that Haughey had received around GBP 10 million from businessmen. A significant portion of funds donated for a liver-transplant operation for his former colleague Brian Lenihan was misappropriated by Haughey for personal use. Charlie’s protégé Bertie Ahern presided as the youngest-ever Taoiseach over a booming Irish economy and helped bring peace to Northern Ireland. Ahern signed the cheques from the Lenihan account, and this and other matters from the past came back to haunt him, forcing Ahern to set up the Mahon Tribunal which brought about his downfall.

 

In 1999, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) published a discussion paper, ‘The Accountancy Profession and The Fight against Corruption’, which urged accountants to help root out corruption. In Ireland, bankers and accountants colluded with and were protected by the perpetrators.

Des Traynor, Haughey’s own accountant, helped 120 of the country’s richest men to divert their money through London and the Cayman Islands, and back to Dublin, to evade tax. Allied Irish Banks (AIB) operated 50,000 bogus overseas accounts to avoid Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT). AIB also wrote off Haughey’s huge overdraft. The phrase ‘banana republic’ was often bandied about at the time.

 

So, what is corruption? One definition is “the misuse of entrusted power for private gain”. For ordinary citizens, it is more up-close and personal than an abstract definition. It means citizens struggling to get what should be their right. ‘Speed money’ to fast-track public services might be seen as being akin to tipping a waiter at a restaurant, but this is part and parcel of a toxic culture.

 

Codes of conduct and training will remind officials that they are public servants. Corruption thrives when the wealth and potential of the public sector are used without the consent of those who happen to work in government. Economic theory and empirical evidence both demonstrate that corruption impedes economic growth by discouraging investment, deterring entrepreneurship, diverting public talent, reducing the quality of public infrastructure and distorting public finances. Regression analyses have shown a correlation between corruption and income inequality. Corruption leads to an unfair distribution of state resources and services.

Corruption also inhibits citizen participation, which in turn lowers the quality of public services and infrastructure. The poor suffer disproportionately from low-quality public services. When people perceive that the social system is inequitable, their incentive to engage in productive economic activities declines.

 

In 1997, Professor Robert Klitgaard, the world’s leading expert on corruption, recommended the following:

 

  • “Fry a few big fish…”. Major corrupt figures need to be convicted to undermine the culture of impunity.
  • Anonymous groups should conduct diagnostic studies of corrupt systems of procurement and contracting.
  • Collect information to raise the probability of corruption being detected.
  • Link officials’ salaries to success, so they earn enough to control temptation.

 

The corrupt would be comfortable if the citizenry took a pessimistic view that because corruption exists everywhere, nothing can be done about it. No one would argue that because pollution and disease exist in every country, nothing should be done to reduce them.

 

The Irish tribunals made a difference, in that they undermined the public’s tolerance for unethical behavior, and they destroyed the culture of silence in the process. Senior politicians such as Prime Ministers Haughey (death saved him from criminal conviction) and Ahern, Foreign Minister Ray Burke (who was jailed), and EU Commissioner Padraig Flynn and his daughter Minister Beverley Flynn (who was working for a bank when, in the Hiberno-English phrase, “the firm’s cash got mixed up with their own”) were named and shamed – and they paid the price.

 

 

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Corruption

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday April 1 2012

Although patriotic Sri Lankans might like to boast that they are the best in the world at the corruption game, there are lessons to be learnt from other countries. Somalia holds up the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index at number 182.  Sri Lanka is at number 86 (improving on a previous 91), somewhat worse than Serbia, Panama and Jamaica. I am not saying mutts like Somalia can teach us anything. Lessons can, however, be learnt from nations who are sophisticated enough to climb to respectable positions on the index.

In 2010, Ireland was at number 14 and the UK at number 20. The 2011 table shows the UK (now number 16) has improved in honesty and Ireland (number 19) has worsened. The US is at number 24.

Only this week, news came out that Micheál Martin, the current leader of Fianna Fáil, the party, which dominated Irish politics for most of the life of the Republic, has called on his predecessor, Bertie Ahern, to be expelled from the party.

Bertie’s mentor, Charles Haughey, enjoyed an opulent lifestyle on his modest salary as Taoiseach (or Irish Prime Minister, pronounced ‘tea-shock’). He had a fine art collection and wine cellar, racehorses, owned at least one island, a helicopter and enjoyed the services of a voluptuous but garrulous mistress. Retail tycoon Ben Dunne gave Charlie millions, prompting the T-shirt slogan: “Ben there. Dunne that. Bought the Taoiseach”. A culture of impunity has rewarded corrupt politicians, bankers and builders. Ireland shares with Sri Lanka a kind of cronyism. ‘Gombeenism’ describes the kind of parish-pump politics in which those elected to be legislators devote themselves to self-aggrandisement and bestowing favours,  rather than honestly representing their constituents’ interests.

Fianna Fáil was practically wiped out at the last general election. The last Fianna Fáil PM, Brian Cowan, liked to refer to himself affectionately as Biffo, Big Ignorant Fat F…er from Offaly. He has lost any affection the public felt for him, and has apologised for his role in ruining the economy. The culprits continued to receive generous pensions and expenses.

Martin’s condemnation of Bertie came after a report said, “Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated.” The report found Mr. Ahern failed to “truthfully account” for the source of bank account lodgements and   confirmed the former Fianna Fáil leader’s personal behaviour had fallen short of the standard expected of holders of high office.

The report referred to was by the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, commonly known as the Mahon Tribunal. As well as accusing Ahern of untruthfulness, the report found former European Commissioner Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, and said another former Taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, had abused his power.
Martin made sure the other Irish parties were not left out of the condemnation. Current PM, Enda Kenny, refused to take any action when told a member of his Fine Gael party had “sought a bribe of £250,000”.

Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams claimed institutionalised sleaze and corruption had been rife in Ireland.  “It was not just political life that was corrupt,” he added. “So, too, was the business elite.” Adams said institutional corruption and gombeenism (a Sri Lankan equivalent of the Gombeen Man would be the mudalali involved in politics) were part and parcel of British colonial rule on the island and the practices survived and thrived in the post-colonial period.
Martin described Sinn Féin’s “embrace of double standards” as “particularly brazen”. During the period investigated by Mahon, “Sinn Féin’s movement killed more than 200 people, kneecapped and exiled many more and ran this island’s largest racketeering, kidnapping and bank-robbing network”.

Some Sri Lankans have a touching faith in the institutions of western countries. When one points to the shortcomings of other countries, one is told that there is at least accountability for wrong-doing, unlike the impunity that is characteristic of Sri Lanka. Taking Ireland as an example, one can take comfort in the fact that there is an Act of the Oireachtas (parliament), establishing Tribunals of Inquiry to look into matters of urgent public importance. Tribunals are obliged to report their findings to the Oireachtas. They have the power to enforce the attendance and examination of witnesses and the production of documents relevant to the work in hand.

By the end of 2000, there were six tribunals. According to historian Diarmaid Ferriter: “Tribunals were an indictment of the lack of investigation at home into these issues. It often took outsiders to unfold the truth, as with the exposure by Susan O’Keefe of the BBC of the beef industry in the 1991 documentary “Where’s the Beef?” O’Keefe concluded that there was in Irish society too much indulgence of unethical behaviour and that a culture of silence prevailed. These tribunal inquiries tended to go on for a long time (Mahon started in 1997), the details are very complicated and they are very costly to the taxpayer.

The amounts brown-enveloped by corrupt businessmen and politicians are trivial compared to the amounts legally made by lawyers at the tribunals. Barristers’ daily tribunal rates were €2,500 (£1,700 LKR 432,000). Senior counsel Patrick Quinn earned more than €50,000 from other  State work. In a year, he was paid almost €500,000 for working part-time at the inquiry. He earned a total of €5,273,521.17 (911,223,388 Sri Lanka Rupees) in fees over the decade he has worked at the tribunal. Legal team costs for 2011 were €950,000. Total legal costs have reached almost €50 million (8,639,610,596 Sri Lanka Rupees).

It is not a function of Tribunals to administer justice, their work is solely inquisitorial. Wrongdoers can take comfort in the fact that the outcome of tribunals would rarely be prosecution.

– See more at: http://www.nation.lk/edition/news-features/item/4584-

corruption.html#sthash.7yvkong8.dpuf

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