Thursday 18 December 2014

Striking a whistleblow for democracy

Claims that the Anglo Tapes pose a major threat to due process are utter nonsense, writes Gene Kerrigan

Published 07/07/2013 | 05:00

WE blew it. There was a small window of opportunity during which we could have made serious money out of this Edward Snowden dude. The whistleblower, a former US intelligence worker, has revealed the extent to which the US government has been spying on other governments and citizens. This has thoroughly pissed off the Yanks. They want Snowden so bad they can taste it. They want him the way Wile E Coyote wants the Roadrunner.

There he is, stranded in a transit area of Moscow airport, his citizenship cancelled without due process. Snowden had Fast Buck Opportunity written all over him. Our establishment – timid, deferential and apologetic when dealing with the Yanks – missed its chance to monetise Mr Snowden.

What we should have done was offer Snowden Irish citizenship. Once we'd smuggled him into the country we could have cuffed him, tossed him into solitary and called that charming Mr Obama and offered him a deal.

A week later, Mr Obama would call in various worthies from the ECB, the IMF and the German and French governments. He would order them to erase all debts recently dumped on to Irish citizens. Anyone questioning this directive would be shown files documenting their every business, personal, financial and sexual act over the past five years.

True, that would be illegal on so many levels. But, after recent events, it's clear that the law, like taxes, is for the little people. If you're rich or powerful enough the law simply doesn't apply to you. The law is for losers.

We've had lots of evidence of that in this country. I spent long days at various tribunals, listening to respectable people committing blatant perjury. On one occasion, the perjury was so obvious that the courtroom erupted in laughter. "There's nothing wrong with a few lies," the lad in question sheepishly quipped, from the witness stand. The line of questioning was dropped just short of exploring who coached his perjured evidence.

No one was charged. People who committed perjury, people who repeatedly committed tax fraud – their crimes outlined in detail – had nothing to fear from Irish law. Some bought their way out of trouble – doing deals with Revenue. (Poor old Ray Burke, no one left to protect him – he was a handy fall guy.)

The perjury chaps – well, somehow, the legal authorities never got around to pressing charges.

Yet, without blushing, last week the Irish establishment came over all faint at the notion that journalists and other lowlifes might be "mucking around" with a garda investigation. Oh dear, we mustn't trample on "due process". We've got to ensure, we were told, that the evidence isn't "contaminated". The legal process is so fragile that it will collapse if you look crooked at it.

Therefore, it becomes imperative to hunt down whoever leaked the Anglo recordings.

Because, you see, we must protect the integrity of the criminal process, we must ensure that unauthorised people don't "muck around" with it.

Odd, isn't it – that the Anglo recordings are suddenly so significant that we shouldn't hear them, discuss them, know about them, for fear that the legal process might be tarnished.

Until the Irish Independent and Sunday Independent published their contents, no one seemed to give a damn. We had a couple of inquiries into the banking collapse, with not a word coming out about the recordings. The Central Bank knew nothing. The state owned the banks, but no one knew or wanted to know about what evidence might be lying around, from which we might learn what various establishment figures had been up to.

Alan Dukes was made a "public interest director" of Anglo, and he now says he wasn't sure what that meant. I thought it quite obvious. Since we were picking up the tab, I thought Alan was in there as a watchdog, looking out for our interests. Apparently not. The term "public interest director" has, it seems, no meaning whatever. Alan was a bank director, full stop.

Alan knew about the recordings, saw transcripts, but – having drawn on what he modestly called his "vast experience as a politician, technocrat and minister", Alan didn't tell anyone. And, no one asked.

Suddenly, these recordings are so important that lawyers and accountants have to be paid huge fees to chase down the leakers – to stop all that "mucking around".

The sudden respect for the law, and for due process, is refreshing.

Or nauseating. Depending on how you see these things.

Let's set at ease the minds of all these delicate people who fear that public knowledge of what's going on is incompatible with justice. Here's Michael Noonan, quoted in the Irish Examiner: "The guards are the people who investigate crime in this country and the guards have a statutory right to gather the evidence and other people shouldn't be mucking around in garda business," Mr Noonan said.

"Because, there's a risk of contaminating evidence and contaminated evidence is not admissible in court."

Mr Noonan suggests, with all the ministerial gravitas he can summon, that once an aspect of some affair is being investigated by police, no other element within society dare inquire, discuss or inform the public about that matter – for fear of "contamination". That's bullshit. Total, undiluted bullshit.

The collapse of Anglo – and the rest of the dud banks – is primarily a political scandal. It involves bankers, developers, associated advisers and professionals, and their political cronies. It involves a prolonged gamble that went wrong, and an attempt – still continuing – to find patsies to pick up the bill. It is a media duty to explore that. It doesn't interfere with any garda investigation.

Evidence is "contaminated" when it's changed or rendered untrustworthy in some way. That can't be achieved by broadcasting such evidence.

It could be argued – though this isn't what Noonan suggested – that broadcasting evidence might make a fair trial more difficult. This is the underlying implication of the alleged concern about "contamination".

It's nonsense. We're reminded that the courts refused to try Charlie Haughey because of public statements. It was entirely possible to try Haughey. It is possible to try anyone, regardless of public controversy. We have the Special Criminal Court. The legislation confines the SCC to certain "scheduled" offences.

However, Section 47 allows for trial of "an offence which is not a scheduled offence" if the Attorney General "certifies that the ordinary Courts are, in his opinion, inadequate to secure the effective administration of justice". Afraid someone can't get a fair trial because of publicity? Send it to the Special Court, which exists to try offences that would damage the state, with no jury – and judges who can disregard all publicity.

Given our newfound respect for legal accountability, should we not investigate the activities of that charming Mr Obama?

Leave aside the targeting of the plane carrying Bolivian President Morales – a virtual kidnapping that upset all South America, when a panicky Yankie ambassador thought Snowden might be on the plane. Ireland had a turn as EU president.

We know Mr Obama's snoopers targeted the EU. It's not believable that they didn't bug Mr Kenny, Mr Gilmore and Ms Creighton, and their staff and advisers.

We should demand the recordings. Alternatively, I think Paul Williams, Tom Lyons and Gavin Sheridan should make it their business to get hold of such evidence, and muck around with it.

Irish Independent

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