by Frank Schnittger
Fri Mar 23rd, 2012 at 07:18:29 AM EST
The laws of libel are very strict in Ireland. Damages and legal costs for defamation can be ruinous. The Irish Times is a conservative bastion of the establishment. And yet they can print this:
Martin and Fianna Fáil can spare us the act, we don't want to hear it now
SPARE US your indignation, Micheál Martin. Button your disgust, Fianna Fáil. We don't want to hear it. You had your chance and you chose to do nothing. So don't pretend to be shocked now.
Just do us that much. We won't buy it.
If the tribunal were to take another 15 years to deliver its findings, you'd still be sitting on your hands.
I sat through all of Bertie Ahern's evidence. It was appalling.
Hilarious? Frequently. Pathetic? Often. Infuriating? Utterly. Embarrassing? Completely.
I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now.
And, unlike the clever people entrusted by us to run the country at the time, I didn't have to wait years for a tribunal of inquiry to tell me.
But did it matter? Well yes, it did, because this man, grinning in the witness box, was our taoiseach.
He wasn't a corner-cutting property developer. He wasn't a millionaire builder, doing what you have to do to close a deal. He wasn't an amoral middle-man or a small-time councillor on the make.
Bertie Ahern was the prime minister of our country, holder of the highest office in the land.
That's supposed to mean something.
And he was lying through his teeth. Anybody with half an ounce of wit could see it.
Reporters detailed his ridiculous explanations for the huge amounts of money washing through his myriad accounts, and resting in his office safes. The most cursory of examinations of the daily transcripts would have shown up his risible stories for the twaddle that they were.
But throughout, his government and party turned a blind eye; squirmed and twisted and gave every manner of excuse to avoid the blindingly obvious taking place in full public view in a State-established inquiry.
He was lying.
Many people outside Ireland wonder at the compliant submission of the people to one of the most draconian, foreign imposed, austerity plans in history. The ordinary people of Ireland have been made liable for the speculative losses of property developers, runaway bankers, hedge funds, and foreign debt speculators. People who never benefited from the boom are paying for the bust.
However there is also a sense in which the ordinary people of Ireland were complicit. There was a culture of corruption. It was common knowledge that dodgy planning permissions could be had for a suitably stuffed brown paper envelope slipped into the right hand. Politicians such as Bertie Ahern, and Charlie Haughey before them were fêted for their free and easy ways with money being "donated" to them from all directions. Those who complained were marginalised or ridiculed. The media was largely silenced by complicity and editors fearful of being sued.
Now - after 15 years of investigation and several hundred million Euros in legal costs - a scandal even bigger than the relatively small sums gifted to politicians "no questions asked" - the Mahon Tribunal has at last delivered its final report. It finds no concrete proof of corruption against Bertie Ahern. All his dealings were in cash and no specific or linked favours could be proved. However it found that Corruption was endemic at every level of the political and planning process and several lesser figures stand accused of corruption. Although criminal prosecutions may now follow, it is quite possible that few if any will go to jail. The Gardai, too, stand indicted for their failure to investigate the many allegations current at the time. They knew which side their bread was buttered on.
At every level of public life there was a sneaking regard for the chancers who had the balls to get away with it and those who spoke out got into a world of pain for their troubles. Fianna Fail - the party most associated with all this corruption - has already been marginalised. It's leader, Michael Martin, a cabinet colleague of Bertie Ahern for all those years is twisting in the wind. If the Tribunal's findings result in a lasting change in the political culture of Ireland, it may even have been worth the time and money spent on it. Now we have to tackle the systemic corruption of the legal industry which prevented efficient investigation or effective prosecution in the past. I won't be holding my breath.