Mahon’s Inconvenient Truths

By | December 3, 2007

What could Albert Reynolds have been doing during that six-hour stopover in Freeport in March 1994? Nipping to the bank, or topping up his tan?
We heard about the trip last week through evidence at the Mahon tribunal from Air Corps chief Ralph James, the former pilot of the government jet. He knew the stop had been made, but didn’t know why.
Martin Mansergh, who accompanied Reynolds on the trip to the Bahamas, was quick to suggest that the brigadier’s evidence “must be based on faulty recollection”. Mansergh was too quick, though. Between hearing a report of James’ evidence on the RTE news at lunchtime on Wednesday, and issuing a statement in which he sought to undermine the pilot’s evidence, the Fianna Fail TD might have paused to check the transcripts. The Air Corps chief was not relying on his own recollection but on detailed records of the flight plan which do indeed show a last-minute stopover was made in Freeport at the personal request of the then taoiseach.
The only one with a faulty recollection then is Mansergh, who can remember with exquisite detail the military honours afforded Reynolds on the trip and a dinner party hosted by Tony O’Reilly. But he must have been distracted when the plane touched down in Freeport because the TD is not terribly sure what happened there.
Mansergh’s instinct to get his statement out fast last Wednesday is symptomatic of Fianna Fail’s attitude to the tribunals. In general the party’s defence strategy has three legs: nobody saw me do it; the witness is mad; this is all a waste of money anyway. If no-one saw them do it then maybe they didn’t do it. The problem is that, sometimes, someone did see them and they give evidence about the most extraordinary transactions. The tales are sometimes so incredible that Fianna Fail is able to spin that, sure, “poor X isn’t well”. Despite my own propensity to engage in conspiracy theories, even I shake my head sometimes and think half of the evidence must be invented.
It was Tom Gilmartin who first introduced the Bahamas trip to the tribunal. Gilmartin says that Owen O’Callaghan, a rival developer, once told him that he’d given Reynolds IR£150,000 in his Cork home at around 3am one night in March 1994. Reynolds supposedly said he was tired and had to be picked up by helicopter as he was leaving for America the next morning for St Patrick’s Day. Other sources told Gilmartin that Reynolds collected $1m in New York, Boston and Chicago, good-will money because of the peace process. But only $70,000 made it back to Fianna Fail and Gilmartin quipped that “$900,000 must have fallen off the plane and floated down towards the Cayman Islands”.
Preposterous, no? Reynolds stuffing a bag with cash in a back bedroom in Cork in the middle of the night? A million dollars collected from rich Irish-Americans beind stashed in a Caribbean bank? Gilmartin’s off his rocker, right? Then the brigadier shows up with the flight plan.
The records show that Reynolds was indeed collected by helicopter late at night in Cork after a fundraising dinner. He did go off America next day, and there was an unscheduled stopover in Freeport on the way home from an official visit to the Bahamas. If Gilmartin’s got that much right, perhaps he’s not barking after all? Meanwhile Padraic O’Connor, former head of NCB stockbrokers, also testified to the Mahon Tribunal last week and has directly contradicted the evidence of Bertie Ahern. The taoiseach claimed, in that weepy interview with RTE’s Brian Dobson, that O’Connor was one of the close and personal friends approached to give him a dig-out when he found himself in financial difficulty. O’Connor says he was “friendly” with Ahern during their professional dealings, but not his “friend”. A donation of IR£5,000 was made from NCB to Ahern’s constituency funds and was not intended for the taoiseach personally. Under rigorous cross-examination, O’Connor’s version has stood up in its entirety and seems far more credible than Ahern’s.
But so what? Is it worth spending millions to find this out? If Irish people have made one thing clear it’s that they don’t particularly care about politicians getting hand-outs from businessmen. Perhaps they think everyone’s doing it, or that it’s worth having a crooked politician in power if they do the rest of the job properly. So everyone from Beverly Flynn to Michael Lowry have been re-elected even after incontrovertible proof of past improprieties. If voters don’t care, then what’s the point in enriching lawyers by teasing out more financial shenanigans?
Well, firstly, our crooked politicians don’t represent everyone. For every poll-topper with a dodgy record, there are many more honest, decent TDs and councillors who are disgusted by bribery, tax evasion and corruption. Those people deserve the truth, even if everyone else isn’t interested.
The defence of those challenged with appalling truths about their country’s past is invariably to claim that they never knew. Magdalene Laundries? Industrial schools? Sexual abuse? No-one told us. Had we known, of course we would have done something. But people are skilled at knowing only what they want to know. Inconvenient truths, as Al Gore calls them, are easily ignored. The most important thing the tribunals do is strip away the lame defence of ignorance, and hold those inconvenient truths up for all to see. When details of Charlie Haughey’s finances were exposed his political colleagues had to line up one after another and claim, probably truthfully, that they had no idea. Another former taoiseach, John Bruton, was forced by the Mahon Tribunal to acknowledge that, yes, Frank Dunlop had indeed told him that a Fine Gael councillor, Tom Hand, was demanding bribes for zoning votes. Bruton admits he did nothing about it. I can certainly understand his reason for either discounting what Dunlop told him, or dithering instead of taking action. But now he can’t say he was never told, and that’s important.
I despise waste, but if we’re going to watch money flushed down the toilet on e-voting machines and make-up for Bertie Ahern, then a few hundred million on the truth is good value, relatively speaking.
Maybe Albert Reynolds wasn’t on the take, maybe Bertie Ahern really did save £50,000, maybe Tom Gilmartin’s evidence is more fiction that fact and it’s possible Frank Dunlop is gilding the lily. But let’s find out, and let there be no ambiguity about what we know and don’t know.
If intelligent men like Mansergh are happy to indulge themselves by defending their party and its leaders regardless of their actions, then let them. But don’t ever let them stand outside Leinster House and claim that they didn’t know, or that they were never told.

23 thoughts on “Mahon’s Inconvenient Truths

  1. Gordon Davies

    Does democracy have a price? IMHO, any money spend revealing the extent of corruption in our democratic is money well spent.
    The Tribunals would have cost far less:
    – every one had given truthful, honest and full answers when first questioned;
    – there had been fewer frivolous legal challenges to the process, intended only to frustrate the emergence of the truth;
    – the tribunal had been established in a way that did not turn it into a job creation scheme for the legal profession.

    Unfortunately many of those involved in coruption are still prominent figures. Without the Tribunals they would never have been called to account for their actions. Others would have retired with their reputation intact.

    Finally I would suggest that recent scandals – the cancer service, Aer Lingus abandoning Shannon and others have demonstrated that this Government has developed a sophisticated strategy of not being informed, so that they can transfer responsibility for their inept and tardy actions.


  2. Tomaltach

    I’ll swim against the current here. The Tribunals, for all the lard they have built up on lawyer ass, and all the mileage they have given to the press, have not succeeded in doing the only thing that matters: change our political culture. Good proof of this comes from Ahern’s failure to co-operate with the Tribunal and his failure to declare publicly that he believes transparency and integrity are key pillars of effective democracy. Ahern might have inidicated a change of mindset for example, had he stated that while our political culture in the 80s and early 90s was infected with the rot of corruption and favours, and was lax to the point of inviting wrong doing, we now are headed into a new era. But no such declaration came – nor will it ever.

    Furthermore – the prime time the other day portrayed a culture where brazen elected representatives flout the law and ethics codes with swagger and crush the will of professional planners with impunity, all to placate their backers or to line their own pockets or those of family and friends. The notion of civic duty or responsibility are as far away as ever. The idea of integrity is laughed at.

    A certain amount of ethics leglislation and codes of conduct were reluctantly drawn up by an embarassed political class in the early days of these revelations. But for all intents and purposes they are ignored and never policed. This happens because the political class knows that the bulk of the electorate wouldn’t give tuppence for integrity. They care less as long as ‘their’ man or woman is in charge.

    The Tribunals then have not given rise to a ‘civic awakening’ among the general population. Accountability and transparency lie in tatters where they always lay. So let’s stop kidding ourselves. Us few who raise our voices are seen as cranks and most people don’t care. The local muckers have another gest to add to their repertoire of nods and winks – the chuckle. For that’s all they do when the goody two shoes call for ethics. It’s all a joke. Let’s shut down the Tribunals and at least spare ourselves the frustration and anger.

  3. Tom Cosgrave

    Let’s shut down the Tribunals and at least spare ourselves the frustration and anger.

    No, let’s not. Let’s keep the Tribunals open to reveal all there is to reveal about corruption in Irish politics. For one thing, if there were no Tribunals, things would undoubtedly be worse, as the corrupt individuals the people we as a nation elect would keep on pushing to see what they could get away with. Also, if we are to keep electing people of that calibre, then we deserve the frustration, the anger, not to mention the embarrassment. And one day, perhaps things will change.

    I am sure The Crewser will be lining up a comment or few to defend his beloved Fianna Fáil and his beloved Taoiseach, complete with references to Gavin and Anthony Sheridan and their censorship, the bush-pole telegraph, comparisons of other commentaries to Bunbury, and when he is countered, he will make allegations of bullying. At least amongst all of the sleaze being revealed, there is himself and others like him to entertain us with their increasingly ridiculous denials.

  4. John mcDermott

    I had a neighbour ,when I lived in Ireland and he would have voted for Fianna Fail, if Bart Ahern had gassed 6 million jews in Auschwitz. He died quietly in his sleep, a few years before the CJH shit hit the fan. It would not have made any difference, to the way he voted.
    The Bart Ahern exposes ditto.Theres still a fair few of those people about.
    Some of us have to examine the national psyche that stimulates this culture.
    I think its a peasant thing, imbued in a peasant nation.Cute Hoor mentality.
    Rosary beads and roguery happily entwined.”Stroke Fahy” philosophy. Its there to stay. .Farmers and public service unions are prospering.Enough that the Fianna Fail majority is safe-with a few anxious jobseekers added (The Green Party?)
    The younger sons and daughters of Ireland-those who take the trouble to vote-, also vote for the status quo.Maybe they see no point in the game of musical chairs.The younger people that might change things dont do politics.They grow rich anyway as doctors or lawyers, or in America, Australia, etc.
    Not that Fine Gael /Labour etc would change anything either,-except perhaps display a little less arrogance about the House,than their incumbent playmates in Dail Eireann. Not many people care how much money Ahern took -or from whom-or what favours he did for those who gave it to him. Theres no sense of outrage. Thats the pity.

  5. Tom Cosgrave

    Theres no sense of outrage. Thats the pity.

    I am one of those people and believe you me, I have plenty of outrage. There are many like me, and our number is growing. Compare 1900’s Ireland to 1920’s Ireland in political and socio-economic terms. Using those same terms, compare 1920’s Ireland to 1940’s Ireland and 1940’s Ireland to 1960’s Ireland and 1960’s Ireland to 1980’s Ireland and finally, 1980’s Ireland to the Ireland of now in those terms again. Things do not stay the same. Things change and change at an increasing rate. While a highly and obviously visible change may not occur in the immediate future, it will definitely occur again – and it will be a lasting change – can you imagine Ireland regressing back to what it was in the 1900’s?

  6. The Crewser

    Guys you are deep in dreamland again. Ireland is now a very different place from the eras you are talking about. We have moved on to a peaceful time (Paisley and McGuinness wowing the Americans) The peace process is now beginning to bed in and the results, economic and otherwise will be dramatatic. Its easy to be pessimistic and live in the past as you are doing. Lets give credit to the wondeful people on all sides who made this a reality.

  7. Tom Cosgrave

    Crewser / Eoghan – but doesn’t it make you angry that things might have been so much better had their not been so much corruption in planning and in politics? Are you that much of a Fianna Fáíl patsy that you can’t make an analysis of this yourself?

  8. Rob Hickey

    John, I think you’re spot on. There is no outrage – or not enough at least. Tom thats not to disagree with you, but your outrage (as well as mine) was not enough to get FF out of Government. The point is that enough people in Ireland still vote FF and thats despite the “cute hoor” and brass neck culture they espouse.

    I have no shame in admitting that I never have and never will vote for FF – the party represents all that is wrong in politics. The “loyalty to the party” line ahead of loyalty to sense, sickens me. I understand that realpolitik dictates a lot of what each TD says, but come on….

    My only hope is that Ireland does change and that enough people start voting for themselves, on REAL issues, instead of voting for the son of the man their mother voted for.

  9. Tom Cosgrave

    Rob – I agree that not enough people voted to get FF out in 2007, but as I said, eventually there will be a fundamental change.

  10. The Crewser

    TC I think its high time that people such as yourself did a little analysis. The stigma of failure is beginning to have quite a serious affect on FG supporters and other fellow travellers. The previous occassion we crossed swords was in respect of the Anne Devitt 20,000 Euro payment. I notice that Anne is still a prominent member of FG and Enda has it would seem absolutely no problem with this.
    Here is a bit of free advice for you TC, before you look at any other political parties record, have a squint at those that you, Andrew Lawlor and The Sheridan clan are constant apologists for and try and rationalise why their leaders preach about probity and honesty but most definitely do not practice it.
    You are it would seem a bit of an apologist for Public Inquiry (The Sheridans) despite the fact that comments on that site are censored. Only those considered acceptable to Gavin and Anthony are allowed be posted. Your support for such a policy is seriously questionable.

  11. Rob Hickey

    “their leaders preach about probity and honesty but most definitely do not practice it.”

    Oh the irony.

  12. Tom Cosgrave

    I notice that Anne is still a prominent member of FG and Enda has it would seem absolutely no problem with this.

    I agree with you here Crewser / Eoghan – it is ridiculous and she should resign or get expelled. I did say this previously, lest you forget.

    I am not an apologist for the Sheridans or their website, but I know you are somewhat taken with them and wanted to see if you rose to my bait. And you did. It’s a website Crewser / Eoghan and it censored you. The fact that you continue to go on about it is more than a bit sad.

    On the subject of websites, in all seriousness, while I utterly disagree with you, I do think it would be good to see you with your own weblog. How about it?

  13. The Crewser

    TC there are far too many of them around at the moment and in any case I simply would have no time. I notice that you neatly sidestepped the issue of Gavin and Anthony’s censorship policy. A view on same would be nice next time you post.

  14. Tom Cosgrave

    My view on Anthony and Gavin and their censorship is that it is their website and they can do as they please. That is not to say I agree with it, by the way. You shouldn’t get yourself worked up over it – it’s only a website.

  15. Andrew Lawlor

    Firstly, not everything that has happened in Ireland in the last ten years can be automatically attributed to the peace process in the north (a long overdue settlement which your alter ego Harris likes people to believe he acheived all by himself!)

    Secondly, I would be grateful if you point to the posts or comments where I have been an apologist for and/or tried to rationalise why my leaders preach about probity and honesty. Anyway, what are my political allegiences, as you see it? I have never, either here on this site or on my own blog, expressed support for any political party. I have, however, had a go at Bertie, and let’s face it, he makes a pretty big target. I have also stated that if Anne Devitt sold her vote or took a bribe, this would be wrong and I have had great fun slaughtering the Catholic Church and religion in general. As I said to you last night. Research. Get the facts before you start spouting.

  16. The Crewser

    Andrew, I think I have analysed you well. You’ll always be Mr Bunbury to me.

  17. Andrew Lawlor

    you have no idea how it thrills me to know that I will always have a special place in your affections.

    btw. try that new butcher in donnybrook for your favourite chicken.

  18. The Crewser

    Will do. Have always enjoyed a pint or two in Madigans after the rugger. The Courtyard is worth a vist also as you know.

  19. Andrew Lawlor

    Now, Crewser, that’s much more like it. However, you are still a little way behind me. The Courtyard would have been a local of mine but I moved some years ago. Suggest you re-apply yourself to the task and find a more up to date source.

    Did ye try the chicken? I’m talkin’ four day chicken!

  20. The Crewser

    Well, I often drop in to the Four Seasons when I am socialising and working in the general vicinity.Both the vino and the chicken are second to none there and there are some old friends from Cork residing in the district.

  21. Frank

    I totally agree there is no sense of outrage in this country at what is happening on the political scene.Who with even a semblance of grey matter can accept Ahern’s “dig outs ” story.
    Picture this-Ahern says he got St£8,000 in an envelope from the Manchester “dig out.”
    No Cheques mind you-so no paper trail.No- cash.
    But please could someone tell me where I can find an envelope that I can cram in ST£8,000.
    I’ve never seen one even in a place as big as Easons.
    And he was able to slip it into his pocket and not find it uncomfortable on the flight back to Dublin.
    Some pocket.
    Sorry ,forgot,maybe he was wearing his anorak!!
    And what about all this dosh in his safe in St Lukes.
    Ask you friendly Bank Manager sometime if he /she has a moment , to please demonstrate putting €30,000 into a small safe.Bet its very tight fit.But Bertie could do it.
    The mind boggles.
    Then again,could the safe in St Lukes could really be a VAULT —and who knows how much one could fit into that!!.
    Does he take us all for eejits?
    Surely there must be one person in FF who must question the fairytales of Ireland.
    But are they tight lipped in case other cans of worms are opened?

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