Politics marred by donations, says DPP


POLITICAL CORRUPTION won’t be eliminated “so long as the private financing of political parties is permitted”, Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton has said.

In a wide-ranging address to the annual Burren Law School in Ballyvaughan, Mr Hamilton spoke of the “absurdity” of the Mahon tribunal still inquiring into matters of “urgent” public importance 13 years after it was established.

He also said consideration should be given to excluding juries from serious fraud or serious commercial crime trials, and cited significant legislative weaknesses on corruption.

In a speech on Saturday entitled, “Prosecuting Corruption in Ireland”, Mr Hamilton said: “I do not believe that, so long as the private financing of political parties is permitted, it will be possible to eliminate political corruption.”

He said that the issue of private funding to political parties needed to be addressed: “As long as you allow political parties to receive donations from individuals without any presumption that there is some impropriety, then you are wide open, I think, to a form of corruption.

“I know there are those who believe that this should be allowed to continue, that it is not a function of the State to pay for political parties, but until you move in that direction and put very strict limits on the amount of money that can be donated to political parties, then you will continue to have corruption of an unprovable sort.”

Mr Hamilton also advanced the case for non-jury trials concerning cases involving complex financial transactions.

“I think we have to look at the question of whether or not we should have juries in relation to serious fraud or serious commercial crime.

“Modern financial transactions and, consequently, the manner in which people commit fraud, have become much more complex and therefore difficult for the lay person to understand.

“Yet, we still select juries at random or, indeed, as I have suggested on other occasions, not entirely at random in that we tend to exclude a large proportion of the population who might actually understand such complexity by reason of their educational background or training, and then expect juries to be able to make a sensible finding in relation to such matters.”

Mr Hamilton also pointed out that the legal system has yet to find mechanisms to cope with the vast amounts of information stored digitally in connection with cases “with the result that we have the absurdity of a tribunal which was established to inquire into an urgent matter of public importance and which is still deliberating 13 years later.

“It seems almost as if our courts have yet to come to grips with the idea that the human life span is only 70 or 80 years in most cases.”

Surveying the legislative changes in dealing with corruption, Mr Hamilton said: “I do think that things are by no means ideal, far from it, but within the past 10 years or so, as a result of significant legislative changes, there has been a higher rate of prosecution of corruption than was the case before that.

“However, I think there are still significant weaknesses in the legislative scheme.”