18 September 1997 Edition

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O'Caoláin slams ``dealings of political class''

Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín O'Caoláin called in Leinster House last week for much wider terms of reference for the new tribunal to be established in the wake of the McCracken Report which he said was ``an indictment not only of the individual politicians named in the report but of their parties''.

The debate in Leinster House on 10 and 11 September heard an emotional defence from Fianna Fáil Foreign Affairs Minister Ray Burke of his conduct in relation to the £30,000 donation to him from a North Dublin businessman in 1989. But the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat government defeat attempts to have this donation probed. They also opposed attempts to include in the new terms of reference an investigation into the £38 million in the Ansbacher Accounts discovered during the McCracken Tribunal inquiries into the ``money trail'' leading to the hidden fortune of Charles Haughey. The Ansbacher Accounts are believed to include monies hidden by Irish business people in order to evade tax as Haughey and Michael Lowry did.

Caoimhghín O'Caoláin supported amendments calling for investigation of Ansbacher and Ray Burke. Speaking in Leinster House on 11 September he welcomed the work of the Tribunal, its comprehensive report and recommendations:

``It says something of the extent of justified public cynicism about politics and politicians that it is to such tribunals that the people look now more and more for the investigation of issues, and resolution of problems, a role which they have long ceased to expect from so many of their elected representatives.

``The McCracken Report has shone a light on the dealings now just of two very wealthy former members of government and their even wealthier business friend Ben Dunne, but of a political class that has created a culture of privilege, a golden circle. They have treated the state more like a potato republic than a real democracy.

``Claims that big business donations do not give the donors privileged access to the corridors of power now have not 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 had absolutely no bearing on policy, either directly or indirectly?

``There should now be speedy action by government to act on the recommendations of the Tribunal. The report notes that `as many of the payments to Mr Michael Lowry and Mr Charles Haughey were made off-shore and in a manner viewed in secrecy in an attempt to ensure that they would remain undiscovered, it may be that the measures in the recent legislation do not go far enough' in ensuring that unacceptable financial transactions will not be repeated. Clearly stronger legislation is needed,d not only with regard to such dealings by those in public office, but also in the whole vast area of the export of private and corporate wealth generated in this state.

``The report states: `The Tribunal doe not consider it practical to prohibit all political contributions and rely solely on public funding of political parties.' There is much public unease about the provisions in the Electoral Act 1997 for the public funding of parties. This is understandable as people clearly see that the bigger parties will continue to benefit from the support of wealthy benefactors while obtaining the biggest proportion fo the funds set aside for the parties. But this is also a democratic issue. One of the democratic demands raising during the struggle for universal suffrage and democratic equality throughout the 19th century was the payment of members of parliament. Non-payment meant that only the wealthy could afford to run for public office or to hold that office if they were elected.

``A way must be found to eliminate the continuing electoral advantage bestowed by wealth and privilege. The best way to do this is to limit spending by parties and candidates even further than set down in the Electoral Act.

``For too long the close relationship between the wealthiest in our society and the most powerful politicians has bought first-class citizenship for a privileged few. It has reduced the rest of us to lesser citizenship and still today it excludes tens of thousands of our people from the benefits of the much-vaunted Celtic Tiger economy. The people are demanding that this inequality is ended and it is the business of legislators to see that it is.''


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