Tribunal outcome won’t change minds of voters at next election (Irish Examiner)

By Ivan Yates

Thursday, March 29, 2012

UBIQUITOUS coverage and analysis of the Mahon Tribunal report suggests
we have arrived at a watershed moment in Irish politics.

Never again will our highest public officeholders be allowed to become
compromised by business interests. An end to sleazy side deals where
favours are done in return for cash is supposed to ensue. Such is the
disgust and nausea about corruption that we will banish the
opportunity for secret backroom deals to occur.

This week’s Dáil debate confirms a determination to enact new
sanctions against wrongdoers by removing pension entitlements and
lowering financial political contributions to the point of
irrelevancy.

Forgive my cynicism. If ethics was rewarded by voters, there wouldn’t
have been any tribunals. Election results repeatedly reaffirm that
primary motivation at the ballot box is always economic self-interest.

There are umpteen episodes in our political history where we were at a
crossroads, choosing between principled politicians and pragmatic
chancers — invariably we chose the latter. Let’s recall the original
of the species Charles J Haughey. In 1979, after the ousting of Jack
Lynch, Fíanna Fáil chose to reject George Colley. The media and public
excoriated Garret FitzGerald when he spoke of Haughey’s “flawed
pedigree” in the nomination debate for Taoiseach. On three occasions
the Fíanna Fáil parliamentary party outvoted motions of no confidence
in Haughey. Des O’Malley offered the public an alternative brand of
politics during 1987 to 1993. 40% of voters religiously underwrote
Haughey’s tenure as Taoiseach. Individual integrity was secondary and
submersible.

It was nonsense to pretend we didn’t know Haughey had minimal
scruples. It had been revealed he had used the taxpayer funded
Leader’s Allowance for personal benefit. The FF party treasurer,
Bertie Ahern, signed the blank cheques for him. Haughey’s extravagant
lifestyle was unsustainable on his political salary. It transpired in
1998 that he received personal contributions from benefactors to the
tune of £8. After initial disgust, we got over our distaste by
re-electing Haughey clones to run the country. All his henchmen went
on to control the upper echelons of the party. Padraig Flynn, Ray
Burke and Albert Reynolds were all Haughey loyalists. Their mentor’s
attitude to party fundraising for personal gain was publicly revealed
by another FF treasurer, Paul McKay, who was a founder member of the
PDs.

Fast forward to the general election of June 2007, when much evidence
about Ahern’s finances had already been presented at the Flood/Mahon
tribunal. Bertie went within a whisker of securing an overall
majority. His re-election as Taoiseach was a deliberate act of looking
the other way, while craving an economic soft landing. Never mind
awkward compromising personal circumstances, feel benefits of timely
payouts from SSIAs. Almost a million voters preferred Ahern’s
ambidextrous ability to maintain the boom rather than face the bust.
The moral compass of Haughey protégés had to be flawed. If the Boss
could siphon off several million what was so wrong about putting your
hand in the till for your own thirty or fifty grand? The culture
continued long after Haughey’s departure as leader.

Enda Kenny’s repeated claim for this country runs something like this:
“Ireland will be the best little country in the world to do
business…”; “Ireland will be the best little country in the world to
raise a family…” and “Ireland will be the best little country in the
world to grow old…”

Dream on. The Mahon report confirms that “Ireland is the best little
country in the world to look the other way when it suits us.” Human
nature is predicated on the pursuit of one’s own self-interest and
that of your family. Mahon has not just exposed a cohort of dishonest
politicians, he has put a mirror up to Irish society and the way we do
business here. It’s time to suck up the truth. Bertie Ahern was
archetypical of our politics.

In post-tribunal aftermath, a tsunami of abhorrence has descended on
Bertie Ahern — little analysis or insight as to what made him tick and
why he would continue with a web of deceit about his personal
finances. Bertie was the most successful politician in the history of
the State, by virtue that he is the only party leader to ever gain
three consecutive general election victories as Taoiseach. He is the
most driven person I have ever met in any walk of life. His skills
include inestimable personal charm, unbelievably incessant work rate,
master of self-deprecation, most meticulous methodical organiser and a
latent burning overwhelming ambition to succeed. He could look around
corners to anticipate and defuse problems before they got out of
control. He manipulated social partners and sidelined the Oireachtas
to weave a consensus around his own power base. His macro management
of the economy was based on an objective to prime the pump at 5-year
intervals of polling days.

Every step of the way his activities were supported by a cast of
hundreds of thousands. They weren’t duped, they were complicit in
today’s horror story.

Was Bertie a crook? I have my doubts. His agenda wasn’t personal
wealth, like Haughey, instead his entire life has been consumed with
the pursuit of power. He sacrificed his adult life to attain his
political aims. His marriage, life interests and recreation were all
subservient to achieving and holding on to high office. His political
machine in Dublin Central was testament to his outlook. Party cumann
and constituency structures were subsumed and integrated into his
personal organisation. Micheál Martin’s attempts to retrospectively
control these operations are two decades too late. It suited FF to run
franchise operations.

Fundraising was relentless. It paid for his St. Luke’s base. Cash
generation was so great that demarcations between party and personal
finances evaporated. So much cash (in different currencies) was
swilling around that proper accounts weren’t retained. The Drumcondra
mafia owed their allegiance to Bertie rather than any party or
political philosophy. After a costly marital break-up, Bertie lost the
roof over his head and his cash resources. They wanted to ensure he
could continue his ascent to the top job. His secretary became his
partner. His life was utterly one-dimensional. He maintains a fiction
of falsehoods, because the truth is even uglier. Bertie’s political
modus operandi was a product of his electorate’s preferences.

Implementing every scintilla of each of the tribunal’s recommendations
won’t alter the fundamental democratic dynamic of Irish politics. In
the next election, the hottest topic is likely to be residential
taxation. By then, let’s assume the household charge morphs into a
residential property tax, costing average homes €500 annually.

Whoever promises us its abolition, we’ll vote for it in spades.
Whatever politico promises us 50,000 new jobs from Chinese investors,
irrespective of business ethics or human rights abuses, we’ll grab
them with both arms.

At that stage Mahon, like McCracken and Moriarty, will be but a
distant historic memory. Most commentators never canvassed for or
obtained a vote in their life. None have tried to develop a shopping
centre or office complex. The real world is a different country, where
the pocket rather than the pen prevails.

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