Corruption not limited to politicians


Political corruption in Ireland was more than a matter of politicians accepting brown envelopes full of cash, a former official with the Fine Gael party told the MacGill Summer School.

Frank Flannery, now chairman of the National Forum on Philanthropy and former Fine Gael director of organisation and strategy said politics was about the relationship between a governing elite and the governed.

For that relationship to survive, a basic element of trust was required.

“Without basic trust the social contract that binds society and provides a means through which society functions begins to break down and the perception of corruption in the system further corrodes that trust”.

He added: “Traditionally, political corruption in Ireland is invariably thought of as an activity indulged in solely by politicians and largely involving brown envelopes of one kind or another.

“But I would contend that the evidence of more recent years suggests that political corruption has infected parts of the wider public service – and remember, personal gain doesn’t always have to be delivered in brown envelopes.

“So, a better definition of political corruption is the inappropriate use of power and authority for purposes of individual or group gain at public expense.”

Both O’Connell and Parnell received large sums in national collections that would certainly raise eyebrows if it happened today.

“Questions certainly could be posed as well about Éamon de Valera’s funding of the Irish Press, where funds collected years earlier for the Republic were used by him to set up a newspaper but then the ownership of the paper was vested in the de Valera family.”

He questioned the Social Partnership process of recent years: “This started out as a progressive and effective tool to manage and revitalise the Irish economy in the 1980’s.

“However, it evolved into sectoral vested interest groups engaging in a secretive process of negotiations with politicians and public servants on issues – not just about pay for the public sector but pay levels for everyone and other wider issues affecting the whole of Irish society.

“This was done behind closed doors, effectively sidelining both the legislative and the executive arms of government by a self-selecting cartel of vested interests,” Mr Flannery said.

Noel Whelan, barrister and Irish Times columnist said that, three years into the economic crisis, our politics was operated in precisely the same way as it was then.

“Nothing significant has changed in our political system,” he said.

He was not against political reform but opposed to vague, generalised constitutional schemes which were never implemented.

When they got into power, all politicians followed a well-worn path:

“Before the election they say, we’ll do it within months.”

Time passed and still nothing happened: “Then lo and behold, there’s an election coming.”

He was “fairly convinced” that revelations of corruption on the part of elements in Fianna Fáil had no electoral implications.

What had brought about the collapse of Fianna Fáil was the economic crisis, not corruption revelations.

No electoral outcome was changed: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Pat Leahy, Political Editor of the Sunday Business Post said the new politics promised by the former opposition parties had turned out, after the election, to be quite similar to the old politics.

But he welcomed proposed new corruption legislation which, “as currently indicated”, had the potential to completely change the landscape.

There should be “total transparency in political funding” and “all monies no matter how small” should be disclosed and publicly audited.

There was a need for a dedicated agency to police compliance with campaign laws.

He recalled that Prof Tom Garvin had described Irish politics as “a long game of ideological beggar my neighbour”.

Mr Leahy said that, despite its huge and manifest failure the chances of changing our political culture were remote.