Friday 23 March 2018

Soap opera met farce during saga of greed

Lorna Reid

TAWDRY and at times tedious, the Mahon Tribunal rapidly became the longest-running political soap opera in the country.

It forced the resignation of a Taoiseach and tarnished the reputation of many politicians and developers who believed they had done nothing wrong or had nothing to hide.

But for those of us who watched and wrote about it year after year, what unfolded was a saga of greed and corruption.

Two politicians and a political lobbyist, who I knew before they ever became embroiled in the tribunal, have already served jail terms.

Watching them trying to wriggle their way out of the forensic examinations conducted by the tribunal lawyers was sometimes farcical, sometimes pathetic.

There was something terribly unedifying about watching the then Taoiseach Bertie Ahern squirming and blustering his way through his personal financial records.

His work on the Good Friday Agreement was forgotten.

The Taoiseach who had led the country in the boom times was reduced to trying to explain that sterling amounts in his bank accounts were the result of a few good wins on the horses.

He told us how he got a "dig out" from his pals after his marriage had broken down.

We even had his former "life partner" Celia Larkin in the witness box. It was not pretty.

Even more cringe-making was the spectacle of Mr Ahern's secretary, Grainne Carruth, breaking down in tears and whispering "I just want to go home", after it had emerged that lodgments she had made on her boss's behalf had been in sterling.

Mr Ahern's insistence that he had never taken a bribe or a backhander from anyone in his life, much less IR£80,000 from Cork developer Owen O'Callaghan, was met by jeers and catcalls after he completed his evidence in September 2008.

He was no longer Taoiseach and members of the public who had followed his evidence were in no mood to listen to his explanations.

"You are no patriot," they shouted, as he left Dublin Castle.

And throughout the 11 years and 916 days of public hearings, who could forget Frank Dunlop?

The former political lobbyist admitted bribing councillors in return for their votes on re-zoning issues.

Using cash from his "war chest", Mr Dunlop would drop a couple of hundred or even a thousand here and there to selected councillors in return for the "right result" at a council meeting.

He became the tribunal's chief whistleblower and spent 124 days "naming and shaming" the politicians he had bribed during the 1980s and 1990s. Ultimately, he served 14 months in jail after pleading guilty to five sample charges of corruption, and was released in July 2010.

Irish Independent

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