Okay then, cup of tea at the ready. Aimee Mann playing. Magnolia soundtrack, if I’m not mistaken. Just what the doctor ordered. Now, where was I?
So, let’s return to aspects of Irish life that our Anglo left don’t get, and there are few better illustrations of this than corruption. You will recall last year’s controversy over Bertie’s mysterious dig-out, when at the height of the storm Fianna Fáil suddenly rocketed five points in the polls, and Irish Times editrix Geraldine Kennedy was heard to exclaim “What kind of country are we?” Meanwhile, the innocent Dublin pedestrian will have noticed small knots of revolutionary socialists bearing placards calling on the feds to arrest elected representatives, which may seem odd behaviour for people usually averse to policing.
Let your mind go back to the early 1990s, when Charlie was forced to resign and then Albert found himself under some pressure over his own dealings. At the time, the Irish left were very much taken with the concurrent Tangentopoli scandals in Italy, and the collapse of the Christian Democrats. It was confidently predicted – in particular by Swiss Toni – that Fianna Fáil would go the same way, blithely ignoring the significant differences between Italy and Ireland. The broad masses, in this scenario, would rise up and kick out FF, and the whole political scene would be thrown into turmoil.
Actually, it’s probably a good thing that Ireland isn’t Italy. The Italians dumped the Christian Democrats, and got Berlusconi (the structural analogue of Dr Sir Anthony O’Reilly becoming taoiseach) in coalition with the neo-fascists. Meanwhile, much to the consternation of both Geraldine Kennedy and Kieran Allen, the great unwashed have failed to be stirred by tales of FF corruption to rise up and cast off their oppressors. In fact, the dopey feckers keep re-electing FF.
Nevertheless, some of that old hope still lingers, which accounts for the reverence our liberals and leftists have for the tribunals. We open the papers and find some people who ought to know better hailing Judges Flood and Mahon as the Irish body politic’s answer to Batman and Robin – or, at the very least, Power Man and Iron Fist. Yet, as Vincent Browne points out in the current Village, the tribunal system is a scandal in its own right. Not least in the fact that the tribunals may be in breach of the Bunreacht, although one would need the gift of telepathy to guess how the Supreme Court will act.
Beyond that, consider that there have been multiple judicial tribunals running for as long as anyone can remember, with no end in sight. Nobody is going to jail. Nobody looks like going to jail. There are serious questions about leakage. There is a clear over-reliance on dodgy witnesses, not least Tom Gilmartin and my old friend Frank “The Canary” Dunlop. The overall costs of this judicial circus will be, at the very least, several hundreds of millions of euros, and may very well pass the billion mark. In essence, an enormous state subsidy to multimillionaire barristers, and such a blatant one that even the Law Library is getting restive. Those unionists who give off about the Bloody Sunday Inquiry don’t know they’re born.
There is a further, political aspect to this. The tribunal juggernaut is so clearly out of control that the only way it can justify its existence is by claiming the head of the Taoiseach. This is not lost on Fianna Fáil supporters, who take an understandably jaundiced view of the whole tribunal setup, and as this imperative becomes ever more obvious, the credibility gap grows.
One could argue that the tribunals served their purpose years ago. The law has been tightened up and public life is infinitely freer of backhanders than it was in the 1980s. Not least, the current media culture has sounded the death knell for the kind of “strokes” that used to be common – not many TDs nowadays would even attempt to square a constituent’s drink-driving charge. This is not to say that there isn’t a need for some kind of watchdog, nor that there aren’t scandals that need investigating. But it may be past time to conclude that the tribunals aren’t doing us any quantifiable good. And, Lord knows, if the purpose now is to arrive at a rational explanation of Bertie’s personal finances, they could be running till doomsday.