Editorial from Irish Political Review, May 2008

Three Down, ? To Go

So the mistress of the Party has had her way again. A third Taoiseach has fallen to the wiles of the failed and resentful party politician chosen by the Oath-bound Directorate of the Irish Times to front its campaign against the only functional party of the Republic.

In the moment of its third victory the Irish Times felt slightly uneasy. Bertie pre-empted it. Stephen Collins announced that he would be got rid of by being subjected to a process of "death by a thousand cuts". But he went while the journalistic knives were still being sharpened for a Summer campaign. And in his going he launched a slight counter-offensive which made Tara Street feel uneasy. In order to confuse the situation it gave momentary prominence on its pages to voices in its extensive stable of journalists which are usually required to be silent. The "right of due process" was even mentioned, after due process had been systematically over-ridden—and will be again when an opportunity is found.

"Due process" is an empty phrase in Ireland today. It has been shredded by the Irish Times and the Tribunal acting together in pursuit of a vendetta. Both were determined to get Ahern. He was harassed fanatically over matters which had nothing to do with the issue for which the Tribunal was set up. And in the end they got him. But what did they get him for? For nothing in particular. It was just that the Judge conducting the Tribunal, outside the judicial process, under ill-defined authority conferred by the Dail, chose to keep on extending the range of the Inquisition, regardless of the initial object for which the Tribunal was set up, because he was intent on getting Ahern.

The procedure he implemented was a bizarre mixture of inquisitorial and adversarial, being one or the other according to his wish, and without the safeguards that would operate if it was definitely either one or the other. The endless bullying of witnesses with regard to small financial transactions a decade ago or more until some usable equivocal response is elicited could not be carried on in a law court. It is carried on by the Tribunal only because the Judge, freed from the judicial restriction of courtroom law, allows it—wishes it.

The Tribunal simulates a law court. And there is a Judge on the Bench—only it is not a Bench in a law court.

The Tribunal is like the Times Commission set up to pin the Phoenix Park murders on Parnell. But there has been nobody of the status of Michael Davitt or William O'Brien to reduce the Judge sitting out of Court to size.

In an adversarial system there would be a barrister acting for the prosecution and a barrister acting for the defence with a Judge to keep the prosecution within the rules. But in the Tribunal the prosecution barrister acts for the Judge, and there are no rules, and therefore he acts without restraint in pursuit of the vendetta.

That's the Tribunal acting adversarially. Acting inquisitorially it induced Ahern to give it information in confidence. That information was leaked to the Irish Times, which used it selectively. The Tribunal then took the Irish Times to Court—it could hardly have done otherwise and preserved any shred of reputation. The Irish Times refused to divulge the leaked document so that the leak could be traced. In fact it said it had deliberately destroyed the document in order to be unable to divulge it. The Court ordered that the Irish Times should co-operate with the Tribunal in tracing the leak. The Irish Times appealed that judgment, and the Tribunal was happy to let it rest. That was about six months ago.

The procedure adopted by the Tribunal for handling information given in confidence was to give it very considerable circulation within its system, virtually ensuring that it would be leaked.

Would it be unfair to say that the most corrupt institution in Ireland today is the Irish Times, and the second is the Tribunal investigating planning corruption—which is a gravy train?

The suburban Savanarola, who sees corruption almost everywhere except in his own Oath-bound platform, made the famous statement some years ago that there was no longer any question but that Haughey was corrupt, because he had been given a million pounds by Ben Dunne; the only question was whether he had given anything in return. Since O'Toole's statement was not ridiculed, we must take it that the meaning of corruption has changed, and it no longer means a public servant doing favours in returns for bribes. And that opens it to any meaning one cares to give it.

The clearest case of misuse of public office was when a Fine Gael Minister of Defence, Hugh Coveney, canvassed the Chairman of Bord Gais, Michael Conlon, for consultancy work for his company. When that came to light, Coveney was merely demoted in May 1995 to be Minister of State at the Department of Finance. But that was OK, as his party leader was Garret FitzGerald, and it is axiomatic that Fine Gael is not corrupt. Unfortunately Coveney killed himself some time later, pre-empting further exposures.

And then there was FitzGerald himself who borrowed heavily from the Allied Irish Banks in order to make a speculative investment that went wrong, and then had the loan written off in May 1993. Former Fine Gael Attorney General and European Commissioner Peter Sutherland—appointed to both positions by Dr FitzGerald—was Chairman of AIB.

And then there's Michael Lowry, the Fine Gael Minister who resigned from the Cabinet in November after it was revealed that Ben Dunne had built a £395,000 extension to his house, and who is still answering questions to a Tribunal on another matter.

He has since contested his seat as an Independent and consistently held it.

The Editor of the Irish Times urged her readers to hold their noses against the stench of corruption arising from the Irish people. So the very electorate is corrupt? Or could it be that the electorate is not motivated by an agenda set outside itself, and has a realistic understanding of the functioning of democracy by means of representative government by parties.

The critique of "corruption" often seems to imply that legislation and government should be conducted by pure legislators and governors who have no organic connection with the society which they govern. How this might be arranged in a system o representative government is not explained. But that it is the ideal is made clear by the latest Anti-Corruption guru of the Irish Times, Elaine Byrne, in an article published on March 27th, entitled Unwavering Loyalty Admired And Rewarded In Politics, which says:

"Loyalty is commonly mistaken as a moral virtue. It is not. The four cardinal virtues, derived from Plato's Republic and the Christian scriptures, are justice, wisdom, courage and temperance. All moral virtues hinge on those four virtues."

Plato's Republic is a totalitarian Utopia governed by a self-selecting elite. It was dreamed up as an alternative to the democracy of Athens. And the English Puritans of the 1650s were not mistaken when they envisaged the Scriptural state as a theocracy. Party loyalty has no place in these systems, but the functioning of an earthly democracy is impossible without it.

How can it be that the 'newspaper of reform' in the Irish State applies the ideal of Plato's Republic in its criticism of the democratic system of the state? Because the Irish Times exists apart from the earthly democracy of the state. Under its mysteriously-financed Oath-bound Directory it bears some resemblance to Plato's "men of gold" who lay down the law for men of inferior metals, and are not subject to their corrupt concerns. And of course the Scriptural ideal sees all earthly concerns as corrupt.


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