Hugh McElvaney, the main character in the RTE Investigates Unit programme, was a prominent figure in Fine Gael. A four time mayor of Monaghan, he rose to becoming chair of the Local Authority Members Association, the body representing local councillors.
McElvaney knew there was little sanction for not properly filling out forms and so he did not declare his property interests. Yet he owns waste management firms that operate rubbish collection on behalf of a number of local authorities worth more than €16 million a year.
When McElvaney encountered a fake company by RTE, his response was priceless. “You need to sweeten the man up. You know what I mean.” Asked specifically how much he was looking for, the politician said: “Ten grand would be a start.”
McElvaney is typical of the gombeen politicians who dominate the middle ranks of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael. These parties function as corrupt cartels that look after the business interests of their supporters.
One reason why corruption is so prevalent in Ireland is that politicians are allowed get away with it.
In 2011, the Moriarty Report came to a decisive conclusion about the relationship between Denis O’Brien and Michael Lowry. It found that O’Brien gave Lowry £447,000 as a donation and a further loan. Justice Michael Moriarty stated that it is’ beyond doubt’ that Lowry provided substantive information to O’Brien which was ‘of significant value and assistance to him in securing the licence.’
The Moriarty Report made a number of recommendations on foot of its investigation which included the following:
All donations to political parties – whether in cash or loan – should be disclosed. (Some discretion was to be allowed for very small donations provided there was no pattern);
Details of these donations should be disclosed within a short time frame;
There should be a voluntary scheme whereby all office holders would have their personal accounts audited by an inspector of SIPO;
Any representation to the Revenue Commissioners by politicians would have to be in writing.
The Moriarty Tribunal cost €50 million and was part of a strategy by the elite to protect their own by staging years long investigations which could not lead directly to a trial.
Nevertheless, even the modest recommendations that came out of Moriarty were never implemented. And the reason is not hard to see.
The Minister responsible was Phil Hogan, the then Minister for the Environment. He also happened to be the chief fund raiser for Fine Gael before the 2011 election. He managed to accumulate a huge war chest that totalled €3 million.
Hogan had not the slightest interest in disclosing who made the donations to Fine Gael. He knew that money was given on the quiet and certain expectations accompanied them. And he had no interest in letting the public know who was involved.
Corruption in Ireland goes far beyond the minor dealings of councillors because there is a very thin line between big business and the Irish state.
Ireland operates as a respectable tax haven – so a whole structure has been set up whereby the Revenue Commissioners hold meetings with ‘tax planners’ (aka assistants in tax dodging) that is largely outside the public view.
Feargal O’Rourke, the son of ex-Fianna Fail minister Mary O’Rourke and cousin of the former Fianna Fail ministers Brian and Conor Lenihan, has been described as the brainchild of Ireland’s controversial tax strategies. These have enabled Google, LinkedIn and Facebook to massively reduce their tax bills, leading US politicians to describe Ireland as a tax haven. O’Rourke has advised each company.
Google, for example, paid just €28.6 million in Irish corporation tax on global sales of €18.3 billion last year, while Facebook Ireland paid only €3.4 million in tax here on sales of €4.8 billion booked through its local operations.
Moreover, the EU Commission has investigated the meetings between Apple and the Revenue Commissioners in 1991 and 2007 and found that a tax scam had been set up.
The weakness of native Irish capitalism means that it is more geared to property speculation than, for example, investment in long term jobs creation. At the height of the Celtic Tiger two thirds of all capital investment was in property.
Property speculation by its very nature leads to a desire for close relationships with politicians who have power to re-zone or de-zone land. The same politicians can also lease or rent out the commercial property of the speculators, ensuring guaranteed, long term profit.
Large sections of the Irish capitalist class are also dependent on state handouts. They need the state or local authorities to give them contracts for everything from plant hire to legal services. The Healy Rae family, for example, earned €300,000 from Kerry County Council for plant hire. The Irish state also spends €500 million a year on buying in services from the top Irish law firms.
Corruption is endemic in capitalism. It just happens to be more prevalent in Ireland because the system is built on multi-national tax dodging and local capitalists who thrive on state hands out.
Cleaning out the stink of corruption will mean tackling the system that gives rise to it.