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28 August 1997 Edition

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Liars and swindlers

The Report of the McCracken Tribunal published this week is a damning indictment not only of the individual politicans named in the report - Charles Haughey and Michael Lowry - but of the two major political parties in the 26 Counties.

Former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Charles Haughey has been exposed as a liar. Former senior Fine Gael Minister Michael Lowry has been exposed as a tax cheat. He evaded tax and also availed of the tax amnesty. When the tax amnesites were introduced Fine Gael described them as ``cheaters' charters''.

Claims that big business donations do not give the donors privileged access to the corridors of power now have no credibility. Does anyone seriously believe that the bankrolling of the two main political parties, and of senior figures within them, by one of the biggest companies in the State, has not had a bearing on policy, either directly or indirectly?

The real issue is not simply a question of the personal ethics of politicians. It is a question of whose interests they represent. They are democratically elected to represent their constituents without fear or favour. But at local and national level Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have consistently favoured the wealthy against the economically disadvantaged. They have created a culture of privilege.

Unanswered questions remain not only about the wealth of Charles Haughey and Michael Lowry but about Greencore, Telecom, Hepatitis C and other scandals. All these issues must be fully investigated.

And even more importantly an alternative to the politics of privilege and graft must be created. The McCracken Report will no doubt fuel public distrust of all politicians and of politics itself. But apathy and cynicism do nothing to change the status quo. Sinn Féin is building the alternative and all who seek real change should look to it to develop new politics for a new Ireland.


Liars and swindlers exposed by McCracken


What is at issue is the whole ethos in which leading members of the political class in the state happily fiddle the tax system, just as their business friends do
The McCracken Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into payments to politicians by Ben Dunne was published this week and proved a Godsend to the media which was starved of hard domestic news during the silly season. The Irish Times donned its blackest robes and predicted doom for the political class in the 26 Counties.

``There are no complexities in the report to be analysed and interpreted. The argument about whether there has been something rotten in the political system is over. The debate moves on to what to do about it,'' said the Irish Times. But you would be ill-advised to hold your breath.

True, there are no complexities in the report. Both Charles Haughey and Michael Lowry stand condemned in the strongest terms. But the argument among the plain people of Ireland about whether there has been something rotten in the political system ended long ago, not on the day the McCracken Report was published. It probably ended in 1992 when Charles Haughey was driven from politics when his lies over phone-tapping in the 1980s were exposed, and when the Golden Circle of businessmen and politicians was exposed. On Monday of this week, in an RTE vox pop in Michael Lowry's North Tipperary constituency, most people seemed to be of the view that Lowry should be left alone because, after all, ``they're all at it''.

There is no doubt now about what Lowry and Haughey were at. Haughey has been exposed as never before as a liar of the first order. He lied through his teeth to the Tribunal just as he lied at the Arms Trial in 1970, abandoning his fellow defendants. He hived off his money into offshore bank accounts to avoid tax. His lavish lifestyle - which he denied to the Tribunal - was supported by gifts from Ben Dunne.

John Bruton's ``best friend'', former Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications Michael Lowry is fully exposed as a tax evader. Dunne helped him to evade tax and Lowry lived in the businessman's pocket for years.

The Tribunal Report says that there is no evidence of ``political favours'' in return for the money from Ben Dunne. But this surely misses the point. It is exceedingly difficult to ferret out individual cases of political strokes done by politicians for business people. But it is not just a question of such examples. What is at issue is the whole ethos in which leading members of the political class in the state happily fiddle the tax system, just as their business friends do. It is a question as much of what is not done as of what is.

Social welfare `fraud' is pursued relentlessly while white-collar crime, ripping the taxpayers off for millions, is neglected. If the Revenue Commissioners had been given the full powers they need, including many more staff and bigger funding, there would not have been any need for a tribunal. And it should not be forgotten that it was only because of a family row in the Dunnes business empire that the whole can of worms was opened up.

The real question is not whether the political class is corrupt. That is beyond question, and both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are equally culpable. The real question is: What is the alternative?


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