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4 June 1998 Edition

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Choices for all

by Meadbh Gallagher

It was a great day for democracy, the day the Fitzwilton Group decided it was going to contribute to the ``democratic process'' in the 26 Counties.

Kind of like the Rowntree Trust for politicians. Except we didn't get to hear about it until now. Just a series of handouts to senior politicians of the main political parties over a period of time. No strings attached at all.

The Benevolent Fund for politicians goes like this. A company, Fitzwilton, through its subsidary Rennicks, writes a cheque to cash for £30,000 and hands it in the cause of democracy to a senior politician, Ray Burke. Four months later, Ray Burke approves grant aid of £3.45 million to a company, Rennicks, a subsidiary of Fitzwilton.

After a while Mr Burke gives a third of the 30 grand he got to Fianna Fáil. They write a receipt for the £10,000 to Fitzwilton. It is signed by the Taoiseach of the day, Charles J.

Fitzwilton say they never got it.

Fitzwilton meanwhile is chaired by Tony O'Reilly, the man who owns the state's best-selling newspapers and who tasks them to open our eyes. And to do it in an independent way.

For the public, watching all this payments to politicians saga has been like watching reruns of Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. Watch them going in there, see who gets too greedy, then watch them get sick on it.

Eventually of course, you get sick of it yourself. The story might be good, but there's only so many times you want to see it.

But the line from the film, `skimmed milk masquerades as cream' must have particular significance for certain Opposition figures in the Dail this week.

Because as the Sunday Business Post revealed at the weekend, while Fitzwilton was handing out chocolates to everyone in sight, the people who handed out brown paper bags full of chips to Ray Burke - Joseph Murphy Structural Engineering - also paid another senior Fianna Fáiler and a senior Fine Gael politician in return for favours granted.

To make all the saga go away quicker and easier, could the ones without the sticky fingers and the greased palms stand up, and could the hypocrites stand down.

And if they're not stood down at the next election, I don't want to hear any more about it.

An Phoblacht
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Ireland