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Friday 19 September 2014

A scandalous country

Published 31/10/1999 | 00:11

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The scandals come thick and fast, until we are in danger of getting lost in the torrent of detail that rushes forth. In their new book, This Great Little Nation, Gene Kerrigan and Pat Brennan have assembled an A-Z of the scandals and controversies - political, financial, sectarian and sexual - from the 1920s to today that made us what we are. In this first exclusive extract from the book, a number of pre-1990s scandals, some with echoes in today's Ireland, are detailed

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The scandals come thick and fast, until we are in danger of getting lost in the torrent of detail that rushes forth. In their new book, This Great Little Nation, Gene Kerrigan and Pat Brennan have assembled an A-Z of the scandals and controversies - political, financial, sectarian and sexual - from the 1920s to today that made us what we are. In this first exclusive extract from the book, a number of pre-1990s scandals, some with echoes in today's Ireland, are detailed

TACA

Wealthy people didn't decide just recently to start throwing money at politicians.

THE EFFORTS of business interests to influence politicians began shortly after the founding of the state. Kevin O'Higgins was Minister for Home Affairs in the Cumann na nGaedheal government of WT Cosgrave. Early in 1927 he was approached by a colleague, JJ Walsh, Minister for Posts and Telegraphs. There were some businessmen, said Walsh, who wanted to help fund the party's campaign in the coming general election. They felt sure that the government would look favourably on protectionist measures behind which the businesses they were setting up could thrive.

Walsh gave O'Higgins a list of the businessmen's names. O'Higgins had been ruthless during the civil war, presiding over 77 state executions and covering up twice that many unofficial killings. He had waded through blood in what he saw as the necessary task of preserving the infant state. He had not done so in order to act as a businessman's tout. He took the list and put it in the fire.

At the election in June O'Higgins topped the poll in his Dublin County constituency. The following month he was murdered, a revenge killing by republican opponents.

The generation which founded the state was by and large free of financial scandal. Gerry Boland, brother of Michael Collins's friend Harry Boland, fought in the 1916 rising and the war of independence and was a government minister into the 1950s. As Minister for Justice he too was ruthless and had no problem presiding over the execution of IRA men. Like O'Higgins, who had stood on the other side of the civil war divide, Boland had seen too much pain to lightly sell the favours of the state. When a cheque for £500 came in from outside interests, to be put into party funds, Boland sent it back.

And Sean Lemass, future Taoiseach, who prided himself on his pragmatism, got it back again.

Although the parties which had run the state through the decades were socially and economically conservative, it wasn't until the late 1960s that the formal bonding between the parties and business interests began. It was Fianna Fáil that led the way, with the setting up in late 1966 of Taca, a low-profile outfit designed to gather money for the party. The friendly attitude towards wealthy people bearing gifts, begun under Sean Lemass, was formalised under Jack Lynch.

As a result of the post-1957 opening up of the economy, the country was experiencing for the first time a minor boom. A new generation of Fianna Fáil ministers its principal characters including Charlie Haughey, Brian Lenihan and Donogh O'Malley saw themselves as an elite group of achievers in a country ready to take its place among the nations of Europe. They were brash, flashy, arrogant.

It was a time when sensitive cases such as prominent politicians being caught drink-driving were heard after hours, when the reporters had gone home. The oppressive pub licensing laws didn't apply to such princes of the new Ireland. If a garda dared interrupt an after-hours drinking session he was invariably met with the invitation: ``Would you like a pint or a transfer?''

One story had Donogh O'Malley drunk, driving the wrong way down a one-way street in Dublin, being stopped by a garda who asked if he hadn't seen the arrows.

``I didn't even see the fucking Indians,'' drawled the minister.

It was all good fun, the lads brushing aside the fuddy-duddy conventions of the day. But the law was treated as optional for the elite. And it was in this arrogance that lay the roots of the scandals which would erupt in the 1990s.

The new Fianna Fáil saw no reason why the business interests which were benefiting from the improvement of the economy shouldn't pay to support the party which supported them. And, you didn't leave such things to chance, as Lemass did, accepting the odd donation. You put the arrangement on a formal basis. You support us, as we support you. The word Taca, loosely meaning ``support'', was given to the new organisation.

Selected businessmen, known for their closeness to the party, and some who might become close if properly coaxed, were invited to dine at the Gresham Hotel at £100 a plate. For that price, you got to rub shoulders with the new elite, lobby ministers, make connections, identify who was among the favoured, who could be depended on. It was all done on the quiet, by invitation only. The only ones who knew you were paying the party were the party people. No direct favours were sought or given. It was as Don Corleone, the Godfather, said: accept this gift; some day I may call on you for a favour.

When Taca's existence was revealed in an article in Business & Finance magazine in February 1967, there was disquiet, not least among ordinary Fianna Fáil members. This wasn't what the party was supposed to be about. Fianna Fáil had been a national movement; it now seemed to be giving favoured status to a wealthy elite.

For many in 1967, £100 was more than a month's wages. The secretive nature of Taca added to its sinister image. Taca supporters were derisively referred to as Tacateers.

There was nothing wrong with party supporters making donations, but this was the integration of the party with wealthy interests. Ordinary members complained; minister George Colley made a veiled attack on Taca. In a speech to the Kevin Barry Cumann of Fianna Fáil, at UCG, he said, ``Do not be dispirited if some people in high places appear to have low standards.'' It was a phrase that would hover over the party through the decades.

There was a half-hearted effort by Taoiseach Jack Lynch to claim that Taca was set up because the party coffers had been drained by the previous year's presidential election, but everyone knew what was going on.

Mockery from outside the party, and unease from within, led to the winding up of Taca. First, at a party meeting in December 1968, the outfit was ``democratised''. Taoiseach Jack Lynch likened Taca's fundraising to the Catholic Church's recently-inaugurated ``planned giving'' system. You could become a Taca member for a donation of anything between £5 and £100.

Since this defeated the purpose of Taca the coming together of business and political interests the organisation soon drifted into oblivion.

In its stead, the party perfected a system of canvassing wealthy interests which was Taca without the name. Business people were wined and dined in private, while being stroked by party heavyweights; no favours were sought or given but a community of interests was built up between the politicians and their financial backers.

The informal system was very much more effective than Taca ever was and the other parties followed suit.

The more clever seekers of influence spread their money around, giving to all the main parties. There was no commitment to any principles or politics, just a desire to keep in with all sides of the political establishment. When questioned, all agreed that this money was given not in the expectation of favours, but in a philanthropic wish to support the democratic system.

While still seeking to maintain Taca, Jack Lynch gave it this justification: ``It is an essential part of the machinery of democracy that people should be prepared to support in this voluntary way the party whose policy appears to them to be in the best interests of the country.''

This would be echoed 30 years later by Charlie Haughey: ``The capacity of businessmen to subscribe to political parties is closely related to the principle of free speech.''

Haughey was speaking from the witness stand in the McCracken tribunal on July 15, 1997.

Trudder House

The Anthony Cawley tragedy erupted yet again in recent weeks. The scandals of the past, causing dreadful damage to people who in turn inflict terrible damage on others, will throw a long shadow into the future.

ANTHONY Cawley is probably the most famous graduate of Trudder House, the residential home for traveller children in Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow. He is, by his own admission, a dangerous man. In May 1999 he finished serving a 16-year sentence for rape and attempted murder and began serving a further eight years for the violent rape of a fellow prisoner.

Anthony Cawley was a disturbed child before he got to Trudder House. He was beaten at home, once tied naked to the wheel of a wagon, from the age of five or six left to roam the streets.

Trudder House, as it turned out, was the worst possible place to send such a damaged child. There, in the words of one judge: ``He was repeatedly raped while in the custody of the People of Ireland.''

Trudder House was set up in the 1970s by the Dublin Committee for Travelling People and run with Eastern Health Board funding. At the time there were a number of traveller childrenliving rough on the streets of Dublin, involved in petty crime and glue-sniffing. After some were convicted of burning down the APCK bookshop in Dawson Street, a judge asked that something be done to provide residential care for these troubled children. Trudder House was the response.

Rumours of beatings and sexual abuse in Trudder House surfaced by the late 1970s. But there were no court cases or public inquiries. More than a decade would pass before the abuse of children in Ireland was trulyrecognised as a crime. And if anyone was more vulnerable than a child left to institutional care, it was a traveller child left to institutional care.

In August 1985 New Hibernia magazine reported ``irregularities'' at the home and allegations of beatings and homosexual child abuse. One staff member resigned, left the country and has since died. But the allegations of abuse continued.

It was not until January 1995 that gardai launched a full investigation of what went on at Trudder House. They attempted to track down some 200 former residents in halting sites throughout the country. At least 19 of them contacted said they had been abused.

In 1998, Brendan Kelly from Drumvoughane, Moycullen, Co Galway, was sentenced to seven years for attempted buggery of two boys when he was a care worker at Trudder House in the 1980s. The court heard that he was not the most serious offender in the home. The main perpetrator was the man who had died abroad. He occupied a position of authority and was involved in violent sexual abuse.

Kelly had come to work at Trudder House after this man had gone. He got the job through the assistance of a priest. He was just 18 and had no formal training as a care worker.

As yet, there have been no other charges. Trudder House closed in April 1995 and residents were moved to a new centre in Clondalkin, Co Dublin.

Anthony Cawley is just one former resident in whom the nightmare of Trudder House continues to live, and, through Cawley's own crimes, to spread to further victims.

Jayne Mansfield

PROTESTS by movie actress Jayne Mansfield that she was a good Catholic were of no avail. The scheduled opening of her cabaret act at the Mount Brandon Hotel in Tralee, Co Kerry, was abruptly cancelled just hours before she was to take the stage.

It was April 1967 and Mansfield's movie career was mostly behind her. She had over the past dozen years figured in a number of movies as a dumb blonde. She was neither. Her long blonde hair was a wig and her IQ was reported at 163. She was a downmarket Marilyn Monroe and, although she had studied drama and longed to be taken seriously as an actress, her movie career mostly featured her large breasts.

Now her major source of income depended on hustling her cabaret act from town to town. She was doing a tour of nightclubs in England and was signed up for the Tralee gig for a £1,000 fee, by the ballroom manager of the Mount Brandon, representing the hotel's owner, John Byrne. (This was the John Byrne who would later achieve fame as a friend and alleged business associate of Charlie Haughey, backer of Celtic Helicopters, Ansbacher account holder and witness at the Moriarty tribunal.)

Jayne Mansfield was, in the innocent terminology of the time, a sex symbol. Publicity for her Tralee show quoted a New York critic as saying that she sold sex better than any other performer. ``I am a sexy entertainer,'' said Mansfield.

That was enough for the Bishop of Kerry, Denis Moynihan. Crying scandal, he launched a campaign to stop her. A letter was read at all masses in St Mary's Cathedral, Killarney, and Monsignor John Lane appealed to the populace to ``dissociate themselves from this attempt to besmirch the name of our town''. He said that ``the very entrance of this woman to the town'' was a slur on the Rose of Tralee festival.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 23, as a crowd at Dublin airport was cheering Mansfield's arrival, the hotel's directors met and a statement was issued saying the cabaret was being called off ``owing to the controversy''.

Jayne Mansfield, on arriving in Tralee, denied that the show had been cancelled as a result of the bishop's campaign. Possibly to save face, she said the show had been called off because her music sheets were lost.

The manager of the hotel backed her up on this. The fact that the hotel had issued a statement saying the show was called off because of the controversy created by the bishop didn't count.

``I had the statement done up and it slipped out by mistake,'' said the manager.

This was 14 months after the Late Late Show's Bishop and the Nightie episode, and people were beginning to laugh at the sexual preoccupations of bishops. That week's Late Late featured a sketch lampooning the Mansfield controversy.

The show was denounced at the following week's meeting of the Tralee Vocational Education Committee, where it was described as ``suggestive and immoral''. Christian Brother Superior Kennedy said he never watched the Late Late Show but he was sure the committee was right. Of the committee members, only a Reverend McMorran, a Presbyterian minister, dissented from the attack on the Late Late Show.

Jayne Mansfield's public image was slightly but cheerfully vulgar. Her clothes, she joked, were ``tight-fitting but high-necked''. She had eloped at 16, been divorced twice and separated once, and her claim to a spiritual attachment to Catholicism didn't win much sympathy from the bishop.

The fact that she wasn't merely a sex symbol, that she was someone with ambitions to rise above the brash side of show business, didn't matter; nor did it matter that she had five children, ranging in age from 18 months to 16 years, and that this was the only work she was getting. Her right to work, to earn a living, the right of the hotel to book her, the right of her fans to see her, were as nothing compared to the bishop's frown.

Two months later, hustling her act between cabaret gigs in Louisiana, USA, Jayne Mansfield died in a car crash.

The Galway Blazers

IT WAS as though the farmers of Galway had suddenly been struck by a fierce loathing of blood sports. In November 1947 significant numbers of them decided that the Galway Blazers, a hunting club which enjoyed terrorising foxes, would henceforth not be allowed to cross the farmers' lands.

It had nothing to do with compassion for animals. The Blazers had elected Mrs James Hanbury as joint master of the hunt. She was Protestant and she was divorced and she had remarried. And no group of horseriders who would elect a divorced woman to a position of authority was welcome on the land of good Catholic farmers.

The farmers received the backing of their local bishops Walsh, Dignan and Browne who said that the farmers were defending ``the sanctity and permanence of the marriage bond''. To remarry when a former spouse was alive was against the Natural Law.

To allow the associates of such a woman to hunt on Catholic land would be to undermine the sanctity of matrimony. ``A person who publicly acts counter to Catholic principles in this matter cannot expect to be received by a Catholic people with the same favour, and to be given the same honour and privileges as those who respect Catholic moral standards.''

The bishops' statement was read in all the churches of the area. ``In these days, when there is so much moral laxity,'' said Their Graces, ``Catholics must take care that they are not found in the camp of the enemies.''

The hunt rode out in December and was greeted by a deputation of farmers who wished to inform the riders verbally that they were not allowed cross Catholic land. Two gardai on bikes policed the affair.

A note greeted the hunt at a farm boundary: ``On Catholic principles and in the interest of good morals, the right to hunt over these lands is now withdrawn from the Galway hunt.'' Bishop Dignan (who was reckoned to be what in those days passed for a liberal bishop) attached a similar notice to the front gate of his lands.

``What comment is there to make?'' said Mrs James Hanbury (that was the style of the time, and contemporary reports do not record the woman's own name). ``I am Protestant, my husband is Protestant, we were married in a Protestant church and I do not feel that I am breaking any rule according to my own church.''

Before Christmas 1947 Hanbury said she had no intention whatever of resigning. On Stephen's Day she resigned. The secretary of the hunt, a Mr Comyn, denied the resignation resulted from the farmers' ban.

``This has nothing at all to do with it,'' he said.

And the Galway Blazers were again welcome to terrorise foxes on Catholic land.

* This Great Little Nation, by Gene Kerrigan and Pat Brennan, is published next week by Gill & Macmillan, at £7.99

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