Re­port points to need for ban on party do­na­tions

Bray People - - OPINION -

THE WHIFF of corruption has long hung over the re­fined air that cir­cu­lates around the re­la­tion­ships that ex­ist be­tween pol­i­tics and busi­ness in Ire­land and the damn­ing find­ings of the Mo­ri­arty Tri­bunal re­port do much to add sub­stance to this. How­ever, af­ter al­most 14 years and a cost of pos­si­bly €250 mil­lion, the great­est les­son that can be learned from the Mo­ri­arty re­port is that tri­bunals are not an ef­fec­tive way of deal­ing with such is­sues.

When the Mo­ri­arty Tri­bunal was set up by the Oireach­tas to in­quire into pay­ments to Charles Haughey and Michael Lowry, no­body en­vis­aged that it would drag on for so long or cost so much. At the end of it all we have a 2,348 page re­port con­tain­ing the find­ings of Mr Jus­tice Michael Mo­ri­arty. His con­clu­sions are damn­ing of for­mer min­is­ter Michael Lowry and busi­ness­man De­nis O'Brien and paint an un­savoury pic­ture of con­nec­tions be­tween busi­ness and pol­i­tics that will do noth­ing for Ire­land's rep­u­ta­tion abroad.

Bar­ring a suc­cess­ful chal­lenge against Jus­tice Mo­ri­arty's find­ings, the re­port will set a bench­mark for what is and is not ac­cept­able in the deal­ings that are con­ducted be­tween busi­ness and pol­i­tics in Ire­land. This is no small achieve­ment but it hardly jus­ti­fies the time and money in­vested in the vast pro­ject. Added to that is the fact that the tri­bunal doesn't have the power to im­pose sanc­tions on those it found to have been in­volved in wrong­do­ing.

Jus­tice Mo­ri­arty was em­pow­ered to draw in­fer­ences based on the ev­i­dence he heard over the long years that the tri­bunal sat. Us­ing this power, he has found, among other things, that De­nis O'Brien made covert pay­ments to Michael Lowry, the then Min­is­ter for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, around the time Esat Digi­fone se­cured Ire­land's first mo­bile phone li­cence - the most lu­cra­tive li­cence ever awarded by the State.

But if such cor­rupt prac­tices took place - and both Lowry and O'Brien stren­u­ously deny any pay­ments were made or favours given - then the tri­bunal has no power to pun­ish any­body; in­stead that is a mat­ter for the gar­daí and the courts.

As it stands, the Gov­ern­ment has quite rightly re­ferred the re­port to the Di­rec­tor of Pub­lic Pros­e­cu­tions and the gar­daí - and the Crim­i­nal As­sets Bu­reau is also un­der­stood to be scru­ti­n­is­ing Jus­tice Mo­ri­arty's find­ings. How­ever, it is con­sid­ered un­likely that any crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings will fol­low be­cause the chances of se­cur­ing a pros­e­cu­tion are too slim.

Jus­tice Mo­ri­arty's find­ings are based on the opin­ions he formed about the ev­i­dence he heard. This was the ex­tent of his re­mit and he has car­ried out this func­tion thor­oughly, but it falls far short of the greater level of proof - be­yond a rea­son­able doubt - that is re­quired to con­vict a per­son be­fore a crim­i­nal court. De­spite al­most 14 years of hear­ings, the Mo­ri­arty Tri­bunal doesn't seem to have gath­ered the kind of hard ev­i­dence that would stand up in court, al­though its find­ings would make a cen­tral con­tri­bu­tion to any fur­ther in­ves­ti­ga­tion that might be car­ried out by the gar­daí.

A week­end poll found that 81 per cent of peo­ple be­lieve the find­ings of Jus­tice Mo­ri­arty. It is now clearly in­cum­bent on the Gov­ern­ment to set out a tem­plate of stan­dards for those who are hon­oured to hold pub­lic of­fice. We also need to re­move any need to ever again set up a tri­bunal to in­quire into deal­ings be­tween politi­cians and busi­ness peo­ple by en­sur­ing there is full open­ness and trans­parency in how pol­i­tics is con­ducted.

The sim­ple fact is that ques­tions about pay­ments to politi­cians and whether those pay­ments in­flu­enced po­lit­i­cal de­ci­sions wouldn't need to be scru­ti­nised for years by a tri­bunal if there was a sim­ple ban on any po­lit­i­cal do­na­tions. Suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have dodged this core is­sue but it is clearly what the peo­ple want and it would help give a sense that some­thing of last­ing value came out of the Mo­ri­arty Tri­bunal.

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