I’ve come across Frank Dunlop several times down the years, and I must admit I always liked him on a personal level. But then, Frank never handed me a brown envelope full of banknotes. The bastard.
As longtime readers will know, I’m not massively enamoured of the judicial tribunal system in the Banana Republic. This has not so much to do with the problems they’re supposed to address – which are real problems in Irish society – as with their sociological function, which is a) to give the impression that the powers that be are doing something, and b) to provide an enormous state subsidy to the legal profession. Well, that and they take an inordinately long time to tell us what we already knew, and what wouldn’t need these tribunals if there was a properly functioning criminal justice system.
I may well be coming back to the report of the Ryan Commission presently, as it demands some thought. For the moment, I’ll just pose the question of whether the systematic brutality of the industrial schools was such a deep, dark secret that it took a ten-year judicial process to whether or not it happened.
Anyway, back to Frank the Canary. Frank is going to chokey, and he can’t say he didn’t ask for it. Nevertheless, there are one or two things niggling away at the back of my mind. The most obvious one is the time frame. That is to say, Frank took the stand way back in 2000. Having taken the stand, he then remained on it for months on end, testifying in stupefying detail about how he’d bribed councillors to encourage them to vote the right way on planning decisions. So the guy cheerfully admits that he’s a crook, but then it takes nine solid years to get any sort of conviction against him. I do remember that old crack about the mills of God, but bearing in mind that Frank’s going to be out in less than a year, grinding exceeding fine doesn’t really come into it.
Then there’s another thing that follows on, as if you say A then you must also say B. Namely, Frank has been shown to be corrupt. The fact of him having bribed politicians is now legally established. So, are we soon going to see the politicians who accepted bribes from Frank before the courts? It’s not as if he physically pinned them to the ground and stuffed money into their pockets. And corruption on the council is at least as unsurprising as sadism at the industrial school. Certainly, those in the media who celebrated the property bubble must have known how profoundly dodgy the planning system was. All the same, I suspect it will be some considerable time, if ever, before elected representatives are brought to book.
On the other hand, and I know I’ve said this before, these epic tribunals, lasting many years and spending hundreds of millions of euro, mostly on legal fees, inquiring into political corruption, have to justify their existence somehow. The best way to do that is to claim a major scalp, and the obvious man is Bertie. At this point, I have long since lost interest in Bertie’s labyrinthine personal finances and am prepared to write them off as one of those great historical conundra, like the Marie Celeste or the Man in the Iron Mask. The guy is out of power and his reputation is shot to pieces, and that will do to be going on with. You don’t need to be a died-in-the-wool Fianna Fáiler to question whether the Irish judiciary needs to spend from here to doomsday on the former taoiseach’s bungs.
To return to the point, we’ve got here a situation where the judicial tribunal as an institution was invented by Charlie Haughey as an expedient to stop Des O’Malley walking out of their coalition. But, having proved a useful expedient, and judicial activism being what it is (excuse me for sounding like a member of the Federalist Society for a moment), the bastard things were soon popping up all over the place. The enormous time – and more pertinently, the enormous cost – involved in these tribunals does at least raise the issue of whether, in the new age of austerity, this is the way to deal with corruption.
Actually, you really don’t need an elaborate legal inquisition to clean up politics. Most importantly, you need a change of culture – and recall that, in the much-maligned de Valera era, politicians were often ostentatious in their austere lifestyles and high-minded commitment to public service. This would require some big changes in personnel, but that’s no bad thing. The second thing you would need, as I’ve mentioned, is an effective and efficient criminal justice system that will deal with transgressions with the required severity. Finally, a combative press that gets up off its arse and does its job. The Freedom of Information Act isn’t there just as a decoration, but can actually be a useful tool, believe it or not.
Rud eile: Garibaldy is very good on the sectarian murder of Kevin McDaid, beaten to death by a mob of drunken loyalists in Coleraine. I noticed that the area’s MP, Gregory Campbell, was remarkably understanding of the situation. Also, the news bulletins picked up quickly on the talking point that there were clashes between rival gangs – that would be those with pickaxe handles and those without.
Rud eile fós: The always readable Justin Raimondo tells it like it is on Korea.