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From: Irish Political Review: Editorials
Date: April, 2012
By: Editorial

Fianna Fáil: on the road to nowhere?

Micheál Martin decided to accept the findings of The Tribunal of Inquiry Into Certain Planning Matters & Payments—the Mahon Tribunal, established October 1997—within hours of its publication. A report of more than 3,000 pages which took almost 15 years and cost—according to some estimates—300 million euros must be true and exempt from criticism. That is the position that Micheál Martin has taken and therefore he has disabled himself from defending the party he leads.

Martin is entitled to his opinion, but it is a view that is not shared by the Supreme Court. It found that the Tribunal suppressed evidence that would have undermined the credibility of one of the Tribunal's star witnesses, James Gogarty. This only came to light because the person against whom the allegations had been made had the financial resources to challenge the Tribunal. The Supreme Court Judge Adrian Hardiman commented as follows:

"It is chilling to reflect that a poorer person, treated in the same fashion by the tribunal, could not have afforded to seek this vindication."

The final report has not found Bertie Ahern guilty of corruption. But we gather from media reports that Ahern was "untruthful" regarding his finances. 

When the Tribunal was chaired by Feargus Flood it relied on a witness who had a grudge against his employer (Gogarty) and who claimed to have participated in a corrupt act. When the tax defaulter Alan Mahon succeeded Flood as Chairman, reliance was placed on a corrupt property developer called Tom Gilmartin, who has been granted immunity from prosecution. Mahon failed to substantiate the allegations Gilmartin made against Ahern. It could find no payment to corroborate the allegation that Ahern had received £80,000 from the Cork developer Owen O'Callaghan despite an exhaustive search.

There are other allegations. Gilmartin claims Liam Lawlor introduced him to Charles Haughey, Albert Reynolds, Bertie Ahern, Padraig Flynn and Mary O'Rourke in Leinster House. After the introductions, Gilmartin was called aside and asked for 5 million pounds by a person that he did not know and who somehow disappeared into the night never to be seen again. Even Fintan O'Toole finds the story "far fetched" (The Irish Times, 23.3.12). But Mahon believes on the basis of no evidence. And since Mahon believes, therefore Gilmartin must be telling the truth! That is the 'truth' which the Fianna Fáil leader has committed himself to.
Probably the most extraordinary finding was that the 'dig-outs' for Ahern never happened. When they were revealed during the 2007 General Election, the impression given was that this was something disreputable. At the Tribunal the participants swore under oath that the 'dig-outs' happened but their evidence has been rejected. It appears that Ahern received the money from some other mysterious source, which is not known. Mahon has entered the metaphysical world of Donald Rumsfeld's "known unknowns" and "unknown unknowns".

 It is not really conceivable that all those 'dig-outers' could have been mistaken in their evidence and therefore the only conclusion that can be drawn is that there was a conspiracy to mislead—under oath—the Tribunal. And yet the publican Charlie Chawke, one of Ahern's supporters, knows he gave 2,500 pounds to Ahern via Des Richardson and proclaimed this alternative 'truth' on RTE radio. Since Chawke knows that he gave 2,500, he has made the reasonable conclusion that Mahon is calling him a liar.

But it appears that nowhere in the report is Chawke—or for that matter Ahern —called a liar. They are just "untruthful". The word is just left hanging there for others to draw the appropriate conclusion.

Bertie Ahern has made the point that Mahon routinely rejected evidence that supported his version of events, but did not present any evidence to prove the contrary.  But that is not good enough for Martin, who has tabled a motion for Ahern's expulsion from Fianna Fáil.

On the evening of the Report's publication Darragh Calleary appeared on RTE's Prime Time to proclaim the new line. He was suitably contrite and wondered why Fine Gael had not behaved similarly following the Moriarty Report. It was pointed out to him that Michael Lowry had been expelled from Fine Gael long before. To which Calleary rather pathetically said:  but Enda Kenny was seen standing with Denis O'Brien at the New York Stock Exchange. Pat Rabbitte explained to him in the manner of a parent talking to a distressed child that, given where he was, the Taoiseach would have been very lonely if he could only stand with the virtuous. 

Fianna Fáil missed a golden opportunity to defend its legacy when Alan Shatter denounced de Valera's policy of neutrality as "morally bankrupt". The Fine Gael Minister then suggested that those who had deserted the Irish Army should be granted a pardon. A defence of de Valera's policy would have had the added bonus of wrong-footing Sinn Féin. But Fianna Fáil spurned that opportunity. So what is left for Martin's Fianna Fáil? It can't defend Ahern, Reynolds (also denounced by Mahon), Haughey, or de Valera. Who is left? Jack Lynch, the worst leader of Fianna Fáil ever? 

There was a strange irony in Calleary facing Rabbitte on Prime Time. Rabbitte knows all about a political party trying to escape from its past and the disastrous consequences of such a policy.

Since its foundation in 1926 Fianna Fáil has always faced a hostile media. There is no doubt that a job has been done on it in recent years. The attacks on it have been relentless. But in the past the party knew its own mind and could withstand the onslaught. Fianna Fáil has now buckled under the pressure and Martin has decided to submit to the media agenda. He will find the media an insatiable mistress. No apology will be contrite enough and no obeisance will be sufficiently humiliating. If Fianna Fáil cannot begin to defend its legacy, it will be consigned to well-deserved oblivion.

Fianna Fáil:  on the road to nowhere?  Editorial
A Tale Of Two Taoiseachs.  Jack Lane
Readers' Letters:  Federalism The Way Forward For The UK.  James Annett
Keynesianism—cause or cure?  Jack Lane
More Translation Needed.  Chris Winch
Promissory Note Architecture.  John Martin
'Save The Tele' Rally.  Mark Langhammer (Speech)
Septic Thoughts.  Jack Lane
Gerry Lawless.  Brendan Clifford  (Obituary)
Shorts from the Long Fellow (Happy Paddies;  RTE;  The Sunday Independent;  Trade Surplus;  Fiscal Pact)
Elizabeth Bowen And Her Admirers.  Julianne Herlihy
Republicanism—some thoughts for Stephen Richards.  Pat Walsh
Comments On Desmond Fennell's Picture Of Ireland.  John Minahane
A West Cork Protestant Testament.  Manus O'Riordan
Heroes.  Wilson John Haire  (Poem)
Biteback:  Corporation Tax.  Philip O'Connor (Unpublished Letter)
Irish Merchant Navy?  Report of letter by Dermot C. Clarke
Items From The Irish Bulletin.  March 1920  (No. 9)
Euro In The Ring.  Philip O'Connor
Does It Stack Up?  Michael Stack (Is Oil Well In Cork?; Fracking For Oil And Gas;  The Sunday Independent;  Household Charge;  Titanic;  The Mahon Tribunal;  NAMA;  The Economy;  Defence Forces)

Labour Comment, edited by Pat Maloney:
Guilds And The Town
Mondragon, Part 6