FT on Haughey and Moriarty

Quentin Peel, with his reaction to Moriarty:

Ireland needs to do more to tackle legacy of Haughey’s graft

Six months after Charles Haughey, the former Irish taoiseach (prime minister), was awarded the honour of a state funeral in Dublin, a 600-page judicial report has confirmed what most people suspected all along: that he was guilty of corruption in public office.

According to the Moriarty tribunal, which considered and weighed the evidence against him for the past six years, the scale and frequency of the secret payments Mr Haughey received from “senior members of the business community . . . can only be said to have devalued the quality of a modern democracy”.

Justice Michael Moriarty concluded that the former taoiseach managed to salt away a conservatively estimated £9.1m – worth about €45m today, or 171 times his gross salary – during his period of high office.

Apart from taking backhanders from businessmen, he even managed to expropriate – for his personal and extravagant lifestyle – money that was raised by public subscription to pay for the liver transplant of one of his closest political colleagues.

It is a devastating document, understated but unambiguous in its “inescapable conclusions . . . that he received a wide range of substantial payments . . . and that certain of the acts and decisions on his part while taoiseach were referable to some of those payments”.

In other words, he gave favours in return.

It is all profoundly shocking – and utterly unsurprising.

For most of the population of Ireland, and many who followed its affairs from outside, can never have been in any doubt that Charlie Haughey – “The Boss”, as he was known – was thoroughly and quite ostentatiously corrupt. His lifestyle of grand houses, racehorses, fine food and handmade shirts bore no relation to the relatively modest income of an Irish politician.

What is surprising, and needs to be more thoroughly explored, is why he was allowed to get away with it. He was defended to the last by his close colleagues, including Bertie Ahern, the present taoiseach, who does not emerge unscathed himself from the report.

Mr Ahern was found to have co-signed blank cheques for an account for party leaders’ public allowances, which Mr Haughey then drew on for personal use – a practice that was “both inappropriate and imprudent”, the judge concluded.

Yet Mr Haughey was widely admired, and voted for at the polls, by electors who admired him as “cute” – a very Irish concept suggesting both cleverness and dishonesty. He got away with it and he was not condemned.

Of course he is not the only one in politics. Other countries such as Nigeria, India and Italy seem also to tolerate an extraordinary degree of corruption in public life.

Party political financing in the UK, France, Germany and certainly the US often blurs the line between acceptable and unacceptable political donations. But Mr Haughey was particularly blatant.

In Ireland, Mr Ahern and his Fianna Fail party, direct successors of Mr Haughey’s legacy, seem to think they have done enough while the Moriarty tribunal was hearing its evidence to ensure that such corruption cannot continue.

“There have been significant measures of reform and safeguards introduced as the tribunal work was in progress,” the taoiseach’s office said.

That is all very well. The Ireland that Mr Haughey was cheating so royally was much less prosperous than the Ireland of today. There is a culture of materialism rife in the country.

Enda Kenny, leader of the opposition Fine Gael party, says the report confirms “a culture of corruption, self-enrichment and the abuse of public and private monies” in the ruling party. That was certainly true in Mr Haughey’s day. No one can be confident it has been rooted out.

Mr Ahern needs to do far more to repair the damage done by his predecessor and mentor to restore faith in public life. Ireland has become a model of economic success for many new European Union member states. It would be a tragedy if it were also to be a byword for corruption.

Vincent Browne becomes a Haugheyite

There can be no doubt that Haughey went to his grave a happy man. Apart from the fact that he was never brought to justice for his corruption, it has now emerged that Vincent Browne, for years one of Haughey’s strongest critics has become a Haugheyite.

Browne was one of the first to be interviewed after Haughey’s death was first announced on the The Tubridy Show last Tuesday. Obviously very upset, Browne made a tearful and emotional defence of his new found ‘hero’.

Last night,(Wed.) on his radio show Vincent demonstrated in the clearest possible manner how much he has been taken in by Ireland’s most corrupt politician. I strongly urge anyone who is interested in how the cancer of corruption, and the role played by Haughey in spreading that cancer, has warped even the most objective and professional of journalists, to listen to this show.

On the show, Vincent had Haughey’s former personal assistant, Catherine Butler. Haughey may be a hero to Browne but to Butler he is a god. She describes him as a cultured, intelligent, dedicated and patriotic man.

She blames the media (don’t they all), the Progressive Democrats (she describes them disparagingly as the ‘Perfect Democrats’), Fine Gael and the gullibility of the Irish people for believing all the ‘media lies’ for all the ills that befell Haughey.

Butler is not, however, media savvy so Vincent took it upon himself to guide, lead, prompt and manipulate her views in an obvious effort to present Haughey as an ‘innocent victim’ of cruel circumstances.

There is so much in this broadcast that it will be necessary to come back for further analysis.

Silly questions

When media people are involved in saturation coverage of events they sometimes slip into asking really silly/humorous questions. RTE are a particularly good source for this kind of thing.

For example, it wasn’t unusual to hear Unionist politicians being asked – Are you happy that this IRA man is behind bars? Or Irish politicians being asked – Are you pleased that you have been elected?

The coverage of Haughey’s death is no different. Here’s an exchange between RTE’s Fran McNulty and a former constituent of Haughey’s, on today’s News at One.

Fran: How do you think he looked today?

Constituent: (In a puzzled voice) Well, what can you say, the man was dead?

RTE in mourning for corrupt Haughey?

Was it my imagination or did RTE television news and current affairs staff go into mourning for Haughey yesterday?

On all the major news and current affairs programmes including Prime Time, the presenters wore a sombre and respectful black.

In effect, they were not just professionally reporting and analysing a national event, they were also making their own personal statement of respect for this corrupt politician.

Bugging claims widen inquiry

Christine Newman is so far the only voice in the Irish media to recognise the significance of John White’s allegations at the Morris Tribunal this week. In a summing up of the week’s events in Saturday’s Irish Times, she notes:

The word “widespread” in connection with Garda corruption is likely to bring uneasiness and more questions about what has been going on in the gardai­, not just in Donegal, but throughout the State.

The allegation that illegal bugging of Garda stations, of suspects and their solicitors, houses, apartments, cars and telephones by gardai­ was going on nationwide was made by Det Sgt John White this week.

His evidence brought a whole new dimension to the tribunal and has led to the setting up of a new mini-module on bugging to be heard at a future date.

For the first time, mention was made of two Cork gardai­ who, Det Sgt White claimed, would back him up in his allegation. They were willing to come to the tribunal, he said, and testify that bugging was used in a Co Cork Garda station in 1992 during a murder investigation.

The tribunal had initially received a statement from one of the gardai­ but informed him that it was outside its remit.

However, when Det Sgt White made the claim that the two gardai­ would testify, tribunal lawyer Paul McDermott said it was a matter of some significance. He said the generalised bugging issue was a much wider allegation. A matter which might have been deemed to be outside the tribunal’s remit was now relevant to Det Sgt White’s presentation of his case.

Det Sgt White’s claims began with an allegation that Letterkenny Garda station was bugged in 1996 and that interviews between solicitors and their clients were illegally taped by gardai­. This was during the time that 12 people were arrested in connection with the death of cattle-dealer Richie Barron and he claimed an interview between Roisi­n McConnell and her solicitor was bugged.

However, Det Sgt White further alleged that bugging in Garda stations was widespread and this was known by senior officers. It was a well-kept secret in the force. Asked if the Letterkenny bugging was an isolated incident, he replied: “No, not by any means. It wasn’t just Garda stations, it was houses, cars and apartments and phones, and it was done totally illegally and the senior Garda authorities know.”

About 200 men and women nationwide knew exactly what went on with bugging in Garda stations, he claimed.

White’s allegations are hotly contested by senior officers such as Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty, Chief Supt Austin McNally and Assistant Commissioner Dermot Jennings, and are in conflict with their evidence.

Moreover, it remains to be seen just how far the tribunal can explore the wider implications of the allegations.

But the fact is that the potential fallout from claims of widespread bugging is unlikely to go away.

There’s an elephant in the room here and no one can see it. Why is Newman the only hack to recognise it? I didn’t find any coverage of the allegations in any of Sunday’s paper. If someone did please leave a comment.

Attack on Freedom of Information – Reaction

The following is an editorial from yesterday’s Irish Examiner. I think it’s worthwhile reproducing here because it is strong and to the point, unusual for a mostly conservative Irish media.

Could it be that there is a growing realisation of the damage being done to our democracy by corrupt and arrogant politicians?

Freedom of Information – Government failing to live up to pledges

THE insidious erosion of the public’s basic right to information is one of the more cynical faces of the current administration.
Motivated by a culture of secrecy that would not be out of place in the Orwellian world of Big Brother, this Government ranks as the least accountable ever to hold sway in Ireland.

The Coalition’s blatant disregard for basic principles of openness and transparency is reflected in the increasing exclusion of public bodies from the remit of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

As revealed in this newspaper yesterday, the latest example of its shoddy denial of people’s right to know involves the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) which until recently was open to FoI queries.

Inexplicably, the lid has been tightly clamped on its work, removing its investigative activities from the public gaze.

At a stroke, workers have been deprived the right of access to information about their accidents.

This means, for instance, that where documents relating to HSA investigations of workplace accidents are concerned, a worker seeking compensation for injury will in future be denied easy access to them.

Instead, the injured party faces the daunting prospect of having to go through a costly legal process in order to ascertain the relevant information.

Rightly or wrongly, a cynic could be forgiven for perceiving the hand of powerful elements with strong political associations behind this mysterious departure.

Rather than giving people greater access to what is going on behind the closed doors in the corridors of power, the shutters are coming down. Clearly, in the HSA case, the FoI process has been turned on its head.

The question is, who is being protected? Undoubtedly, the latest change militates against the rights of vulnerable individuals.
And, arguably, it is manifestly to the benefit of powerful factions with deep pockets.

Not before time, an Oireachtas committee will next month scrutinise the gradual strangling of the FoI process with a view to making recommendations to the Government about how the system should be improved.

But the committee members would be unwise to hold their breath, judging by the contemptuous attitude of faceless civil servants towards Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

When she contacted officials at the Department of Finance concerning the surreptitious HSA change, about which she had been kept in the dark, the Information Commissioner was told it was up to her to find out what was going on.

That speaks volumes about this Government’s arrogance towards the public.

Originally, when the FoI Act came into force in 1997, more than 100 bodies or sensitive divisions of Government departments were excluded from its remit. Since then, 50 more bodies and agencies have been brought into the exclusion zone.

An unflinching champion of people’s right to information, Emily O’Reilly has openly complained about the exclusion of from public scrutiny.

When greater restrictions and higher charges were attached to FoI queries, it was widely seen as a deliberate attempt to make it more difficult for the average person, and the media, to access information on decisions which influence people’s lives.

As predicted, there has since been a significant fall-off in the use of FoI channels. Not only is the culture of secrecy still operating, it is flourishing.

By any standard, the cynical denial of the public’s right to information makes a mockery of Coalition pledges to bring greater accountability and transparency to governance.

The growing exclusion of public bodies from the FoI spotlight is a matter of the gravest concern.

Clash of Titans

Another feature of the spat between Minister for Defence, Willie O’Dea and Fine Gael deputy leader, Richard Bruton on last Monday’s Q & A was the embarrassed smiles of the audience and other panelists as these two “Dead Sheep’ attempted to maul each other. (Question 2)

At best, Richard Bruton was inept as he struggled to score points against Willie O’Dea, the Groucho Marx of Irish politics. Groucho, finding himself in the unusual position of actually dominating a political debate, completely lost the run of himself.

It took John (Headmaster) Bowman some time to calm Willie down and move on to the next question.

Anthony O'Sullivan on 5-7 Live

It took RTE a while to cop onto the Brian Rossiter story. I started posting about it on Friday June 24th, prompted by Vincent Browne. While the VB show is broadcast on RTE, it took the RTE news department nearly a full week to start covering the story. And when they did, it was not their Crime Correspondent Paul Reynolds, but instead Political reporter David McCullagh. I would guess that has something to do with Reynolds wanting to keep his sources.

I think it started with a 6 o’clock news bulletin on RTE1 on June 30th, to report on McDowell setting up an ‘investigation’ into the incident.

Since then 5-7 Live have been covering the story, including an interview with Brian Rossiter’s father, and on Friday last, his friend Anthony O’Sullivan.

The interview with Anthony O’Sullivan by Philip Boucher-Hayes is something everyone should listen to. I should say that it is very emotional, Hayes ends up consoling Anthony on the death of his friend, and reminding him that Brian’s death was not his fault.