18 July 2002 Edition

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PD 'mud flap' takes Ansbacher heat for Fianna Fáil

Ó Snodaigh questions Glen Ding sale to Roadstone


Ansbacher thieves deprived the people of millions upon millions of pounds in tax revenue for essential services and economic development - Martin Ferris
"We now know why Fianna Fáil went into coalition with the PDs", the Sinn Féin TD for Louth said in the Dáil during the special one-day debate on Ansbacher on Thursday last. Arthur Morgan was pointing to the fact that during questions there were no Fianna Fáil members present and instead Mary Harney was put forward to bat for the government. "He said you were the government's mud flap", responded Joe Higgins to Harney's retort that she didn't hear and wasn't going to be "tempted by the Deputy for Louth".

As a day that promised much in terms of debate, it proved to be a rather dull affair as it became obvious that the four main parties were compromised by the revelations exposed in the report. It seemed as if everybody except Sinn Féin, the Greens and a few independents were tip-toeing around the issues in a desperate attempt to avoid an accusing finger being pointed at them. In fact, it looked for a time that Fianna Fáil's chief whip had forgotten to inform her party colleagues that there was a debate on at all, so thin on the ground were they for the entire day.

However, all was not lost and the Dáil records will show that a number of deputies did tackle many of the issues at the heart of the Ansbacher affair. Aengus Ó Snodaigh demanded that the role of Cement Roadstone Holdings, from whose head office its former Chief Executive Des Traynor ran the offshore accounts, be fully investigated. He said "CRH must be held accountable for their role in this affair and for their wider role" and pointed out that "for years they have operated as a virtual monopoly in the cement and concrete business in this State, squeezing out by dubious methods those smaller companies they could not buy out. It is common knowledge in the industry that they are the beneficial owners of many businesses, which they do not declare in their annual report and company accounts."

In a further contribution, Ó Snodaigh focused on the dubious nature of the relationship between (and the interchangeable board members of) CRH and the Bank of Ireland. He said questions must be asked "about this crossover and the influence wielded by CRH in the banking sector". There are serious allegations of discrimination against banking customers who were out of favour with CRH and that needed to be investigated, he said.

Highlighting the fact that the four main political parties were compromised in this debate, Ó Snodaigh said that "CRH was at the very center of the web of corruption, and as a significant financial contributor to the establishment political parties was always a sacrosanct company as far as successive governments have been concerned.

"Why else," he demanded, "would the State have sold the quarry at Glen Ding in County Wicklow to Roadstone at a knockdown prices and at a major loss to the taxpayer?" Ó Snodaigh called for an auxiliary judge to be appointed to the Moriarty Tribunal to specifically investigate the sale of Glen Ding.

Also making contributions to the debate were Sinn Féin's Seán Crowe and Martin Ferris.

A "dirty little world of privilege and power that money can buy. A world of exceptions to the common good. A parallel universe for members only," was how Martin Ferris described the Ansbacher scam. He said it was built on a "shadowy system of secrets and lies off the backs of working people and sustained by a colonial culture of deference for the so-called 'good and great' of the land".

Attacking the role of the Central Bank in the affair, Ferris asked how the Central Bank reconciled that one of its Directors, Mr O'Reilly-Hyland, was an Ansbacher client and suggested that at best it was a conflict of interest, but "potentially much more insidious than that".

Describing Ireland during the period these accounts were being set up and run, Ferris recalled that "unemployment was rampant, services required and demanded could not be supplied. Inflation was spiralling. The national debt rocketed. Infrastructure was dated and substandard. The new landlords of the society - the banks - were repossessing houses as families faltered in their mortgage payments. Young couples could not make ends meet, never mind afford a home as mortgage rates escalated on the back of rising taxes. People were forced to leave the country in droves for distant shores in hope of making a living wage. The social fabric was damaged as families had members displaced all over the world. Fathers going to London and sending back wage packets. Young people couldn't get out of the place fast enough. The brain drain was staggering. Rural villages became ghost towns. Areas couldn't field GAA teams."

Against this backdrop, said Ferris, "the Ansbacher thieves" took money out of the economy, thereby depriving the people of millions upon millions of pounds in tax revenue for essential services and economic development. He finished by calling for an end to the "inequality, which anchors this state and the sleazy culture it promotes".

Seán Crowe said that there were many many people in his constituency who knew "the tortuous bureaucracy" they have to go through in claiming Social Welfare for even the most basic entitlements. "Their income and that of their families is carefully scrutinised and assessed and at every stage the system has checks and balances and no stone is left unturned to ensure that social welfare fraud is ruled out," he said.

The system is even more difficult for those applying for means-tested payments, especially Carers. "The means test, of course, is not really a means test at all because it only assesses income and takes no account of the cost of living for carers," he said.

Contrasting the lives of those on Social Welfare and low incomes with those who held Ansbacher accounts, Crowe said that there "are citizens of our country who cannot pay professionals to sort out their affairs for them. They don't have accountants and private bankers. They don't have tax consultants to advise them or solicitors and barristers to shield them from the rigours of the law."

Us ordinary people got our say in Leinster House last Thursday. Unfortunately, the majority party in government and therefore in a position to actually do something about the wrongdoings of which Ansbacher is just the tip, were not interested enough to even turn up - instead they left the mud flap to take the proverbial crap.

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