Tribunals: Mechanisms of denial

The Prime Minister is under pressure to resign over allegations that he took bribes from a wealthy businessman. He has strongly denied the allegations claiming that the payments were given to him by a friend to cover election expenses.

Everything was legal, I never took a penny for myself, I’ve done nothing wrong, he said.

Commentators and opposition politicians have claimed that the controversy is hampering the proper running of the state and is having a detrimental affect on the peace process.

Broadly speaking, this could be a brief description of the recent scandal involving former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. When we hear some more details, however, we know for certain that the story bears no relation whatsoever to how things are done in Ireland.

The police are investigating the Prime Minister; the Attorney General is involved and will shortly make a decision on whether he should indict the PM. If the Prime Minister is indicted there will be a court case, a judge/jury will decide the PMs Fate; if he’s found guilty he will be disgraced and will suffer appropriate punishment.

Unlike Ireland, Israel is a functional democracy where state agencies like the police, Attorney General and the courts take immediate action against allegations of political corruption. Functional democracies like Israel do not hand over such serious matters to ineffective and never ending tribunals.

Just weeks ago Bertie Ahern was due to make himself accountable to the Irish people regarding serious contradictions in his evidence to the Mahon Tribunal. Instead of making himself accountable he announced his resignation and was immediately hailed as the greatest Irishman since Daniel O’Connell.

Nobody has asked Ahern any questions since then, he will eventually appear before the tribunal again but it will mean nothing. Even if the final tribunal report finds that he took bribes, that he committed perjury; that he cheated on his taxes; it will still mean nothing. The police will never question him; he will never be charged with any crime, he will never be made accountable.

The tribunals are, in effect, a system for side tracking allegations of very serious business and political corruption away from investigation by the police. They also serve as a mechanism of denial for the majority of Irish people whereby they can fool themselves that Ireland is a normal country.