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Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin statement on the Moriarty Tribunal Report

30 March, 2011 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking from the Dáil Sinn Féin TD for Cavan/Monaghan Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said:

The findings of the Moriarty Tribunal form another chapter in the sordid history of the Golden Circle of the powerful and the wealthy in this State. It is an indictment of Deputy Michael Lowry. It is an indictment of the Fine Gael/Labour/Democratic Left Government in which he sat at the Cabinet table as Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. Above all it is an indictment of the political culture that has dominated this State for decades.

While the Tribunal does not use the word ‘corrupt’ its findings amount to the same thing – the awarding of the State’s hugely lucrative second mobile phone licence was corrupt. The Minister responsible, Deputy Lowry, received substantial sums of money from the winning bidder, Denis O’Brien, before and after the awarding of the licence. Fine Gael also received substantial sums of money from the same source.

The spotlight has quite rightly fallen on Deputy Lowry himself. Sinn Féin has tabled a motion of censure and that motion should be taken today and voted on and supported by all Deputies in this House. It would send a very clear signal that the political culture of corruption and cronyism is ending and ending for good.
But the spotlight must also fall on former Minister Lowry’s Cabinet colleagues, especially former Taoiseach John Bruton. Mr. Bruton, now President of the Irish Financial Services Centre, said recently that the Irish people need to regain seriousness and self-respect. In his role as Taoiseach Mr. Bruton did little to enhance national self-respect. His close ministerial colleague and chief Fine Gael party fund-raiser was none other than Deputy Lowry.

The scandal exposed by the Moriarty Tribunal happened on Taoiseach Bruton’s watch but he has escaped with relatively little censure for his role in it. He was at the very least, negligent in allowing Government business to be done the way it was by Minister Lowry. He was aware at the time that Minister Lowry was a tax evader and had availed of the 1993 tax amnesty.

It says a lot about politics in this State just before the start of the Celtic Tiger that such a figure could be appointed to Cabinet. One of the less publicised findings of the Tribunal is the pocketing by soon-to-be-Minister Lowry of €34,500 between 1989 and 1992. This was money from Dunnes Stores that was supposed to be given in Christmas bonuses to the workforce of Mr. Lowry’s refrigeration company.

Such a culture could flourish because Mr. Bruton cow-towed to corporate interests. That was hardly surprising since they were, after all, funding Fine Gael to the hilt.

I welcome the fact that the new Taoiseach has said the Government will move to ban corporate donations. Fine Gael has a lot of ground to make up in this regard. They clearly spent millions of euros in the General Election yet they do not publish their party accounts, something we in Sinn Féin have been doing for a number of years now.

The Tribunal has described the $50,000 payment to Fine Gael from Telenor/Esat as “secretive, utterly lacking in transparency and designed to conceal the fact of such a payment”. Mr. Bruton did return this money but the truth of what happened was only revealed after probing by the media. It was carefully concealed and begs the question as to what other significant corporate donations to Fine Gael were concealed or are being concealed.

In 1997 we got a snapshot of the range and level of corporate donations to establishment political parties when a box of files on donors was, apparently inadvertently, thrown into a skip outside the head office of the Progressive Democrats during a clearout. It was removed from the skip and sent anonymously to a Sunday newspaper. The donors included Tony Ryan of GPA, De Beers Diamonds, Tara Mines, Waterford Glass, Larry Goodman and donations from executives in such firms as Stokes Kennedy Crowley and Arthur Cox & Co. There was £12,000 from Smurfit’s in 1987 and again in 1989 and £30,000 in 1992. If only there had been a similar skip mishap outside Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil head offices!

Fine Gael should publish their accounts, including corporate donations.

We have repeatedly pointed out that in key policy areas, including economic strategy, there is little difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. While Fine Gael always attempt to refute this they are much more vehement in their denial that they are the same as Fianna Fáil in terms of political culture, cronyism and corruption.

That may be true to a certain extent – but only to a certain extent. The difference is that Fianna Fáil have been in Government far more often and for longer in the history of this State than Fine Gael and the opportunities for those among them who have been corrupt have therefore been far greater. And boy have they availed of those opportunities.

The media and political debate is focused predominantly on individuals because the Tribunal’s inquiries and findings were based on the conduct of individuals. But there are wider implications for both the conduct of politics and for Government policy.

There was, apparently, nothing illegal or, on the face of it, corrupt, about the privatisation of Eircom. But in its results it was far more disastrous than the awarding of the second mobile phone licence.
Strategic infrastructure was sold off and the Government threw away its responsibility to develop the telecommunications infrastructure of this country in a properly planned and equitable manner with the profits being ploughed back to maintain and upgrade that resource. Instead the general public were invited to be shareholders and when that venture collapsed, leaving many thousands of small investors out of pocket, the company was sold off. Among the beneficiaries were Tony O’Reilly who profited to the tune of many millions.

Now this may not be termed corrupt in the legal sense but I believe it was a corruption of the role of Government and a betrayal of the public interest.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are at one on the policy of privatisation. In the last Dáil they both supported the privatisation of Aer Lingus. We learned yesterday that the Chief Executive of the privatised Aer Lingus received €1.32 million in salaries and bonuses last year. The golden circle has indeed changed but only in form and in personnel.
I will conclude with some questions which I hope the Taoiseach and the Minister will answer.
Will Fine Gael publish its accounts?
Will it publish its list of corporate donors, especially regarding the recent General Election?
The Taoiseach said yesterday that the Cabinet has directed the relevant departments to provide a comprehensive report to the Government within four weeks on the report’s recommendations so appropriate action could be taken. Will that comprehensive report be published and brought before the Dáil for our consideration?
The Taioseach also promised to bring forward legal and constitutional provisions to ban corporate donations. When will those provisions be brought forward?

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