THERE HAS been much talk, but little follow-through, concerning the nasty reality of political corruption in this State. Exceptional prosperity during the Celtic Tiger years and pell-mell development encouraged the passing of brown envelopes. Then, tribunals exposed the shabby truth that politicians, from county council to cabinet level, were on the take and providing favours for wealthy developers and prominent businessmen. But no remedial action of any substance has been taken.
Some senior politicians still defend private sector political funding, even though it contains within it the seeds of corruption. They argue it is an important element in a participatory democracy. Invariably, they insist no favours are provided in return for such unprompted largesse. That self-serving bluster no longer carries any conviction, particularly in relation to planning matters, where the money trail has been easily identified. It is time to make a clean cut with the past.
When Director of Public Prosecutions James Hamilton warns that political corruption will continue for so long as there is private financing of political parties, what remains to be said? Do our politicians favour a continuation of dubious practices? After all, the State now provides alternative and generous funding for the political process. There was never a better time for comprehensive reform.
Early last year, Minister for the Environment John Gormley undertook to break the link between big business and politics and promised radical legislation to restrict political donations and spending. A year on: the legislation hasn’t appeared and Mr Gormley complains at the Green Party annual conference of unacceptable rezoning decisions and of councillors from other parties being in thrall to developers. What is going on? Where is the promised legislation?
Corruption is not confined to the interface between business and politics. Where favours or advantages can be bought at a political level, they also spread into and infect administrative systems. Offences involving white-collar crime, serious fraud and complex financial transactions have traditionally been regarded as low legislative priorities because of their innate drafting difficulties and tedious nature. Such an attitude can no longer be tolerated. Consideration should also be given to Mr Hamilton’s suggestion that special courts might deal with such intricate offences. At a time of exceptional social pressure, there is a great deal of work to be done.