I won it on the horses – the elastic ethical standards of Ireland’s most successful political party

by Michael Nugent on November 8, 2014

The word GUBU was coined in 1982 when a double murder suspect was arrested in the home of the Irish Attorney General, and Taoiseach Charles Haughey described the scandal as grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. 25 years later, when a Tribunal asked Taoiseach Bertie Ahern about an unexplained financial lodgement, Ahern said that he won it on the horses.

Now a civil servant in the Department of Enterprise, Gerry Ryan, has told the Irish Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee that some prominent former politicians, mostly from Fianna Fail, engaged in significant tax evasion dating back to the 1970s. He has also maintained that his investigations into these issues were blocked.

In this context it is worth remembering the elastic ethical standards of Fianna Fail generally during recent decades. Despite its recent decline (it is now in opposition) it remains by far the most successful political party in the history of the Irish state. From the first Fianna Fail government in 1932 until the election of 2011, the party was in power for 61 of 79 years.

I’ve listed below some events from the GUBU Government, my list of Fianna Fail’s Fifty Ways to Laugh at Voters, and some quotes from Haughey and Ahern. Younger readers, and readers from outside Ireland, may suspect I am making some of this up, but I am not. It all happened.

1. The Fianna Fail GUBU government of 1982

27 January 1982 – Parliament is dissolved after Fine Gael-Labour coalition’s budget is defeated. Some Fianna Fail TDs attempt to unconstitutionally influence the President into not accepting the dissolution, in the hope that Fianna Fail can form an alternative Government without an election.

18 Feb 1982 – Fianna Fail wins General election. Pat O’Connor, Taoiseach Charles Haughey’s election agent, enters two voting booths with ballot papers. He is charged with double voting, but not proven to have voted even once. He becomes known as Pat O’Connor Pat O’Connor.

9 March 1982 – Charles Haughey becomes Taoiseach by winning the swing vote of independent left-wing TD Tony Gregory. Fine Gael had met Gregory and went through detailed negotiations on what policy changes they could and could not offer. Haughey had met Gregory and said: “You know what I want. What do you want?”

30 March 1982 – Taoiseach Charles Haughey gives top European Union job to an opposition Fine Gael TD, Dick Burke. Haughey plans to win the ensuing by-election, which would give Fianna Fail an overall majority in the Dail.

10 May 1982 – Justice Minister Sean Doherty begins unlawful tapping of journalist Bruce Arnold’s phone. A week later Doherty stars in a lavish law and order television campaign.

24 May 1982 – Voters in the Dublin West by-election have been complaining that their new housing estate had been promised trees to landscape it from a motorway. On the eve of the by-election, Environment Minister Ray Burke has new trees planted there.

25 May 1982 – Fianna Fail loses the Dublin West by-election. The next day, they take away the trees that they had planted at the housing estate.

27 May 1982 – Justice Minister Sean Doherty begins unlawful tapping of journalist Geraldine Kennedy’s phone.

22 July 1982 – Dublin socialite, Malcolm McArthur, murders a nurse, Bridie Gargan, who had been sunbathing in the Phoenix Park. Two days later he murders a farmer, Donal Dunne, after answering an advert to buy a gun from Dunne.

13 August 1982 – Malcolm McArthur, by now Ireland’s most wanted man, is arrested in the home of Charles Haughey’s Attorney General, Patrick Connolly. Three days later, Connolly resigns as Attorney General.

22 September 1982 – A police car on protection duty with Justice Minister Sean Doherty crashes. The car, a pistol and an Uzi machine gun are left unattended.

6 October 1982 – Two Government Ministers, Desmond O’Malley and Martin O’Donoghue, are forced to resign as Ministers in order to be able to vote against Charles Haughey in a Fianna Fail leadership challenge. Haughey defeats the leadership challenge and remains Taoiseach.

Some days later Haughey’s driver turns up at resigned Minister Martin O’Donoghue’s house with a gift-wrapped box from Haughey. Inside the box are two dead ducks and a card that reads ‘Shot over Kinsaley’ (the name of Haughey’s estate.)

Also, immediately after the leadership vote, and inside the Parliament building, some Haughey supporters physically beat up former Government Minister Jim Gibbons, knocking him over and kicking him in the chest. Some weeks later Gibbons has a heart attack.

21 October 1982 – Tanaiste Ray McSharry secretly tapes a conversation with Martin O’Donoghue, who had resigned as a Minister to vote against Haughey.

4 November 1982 – Government collapses and a General Election is called.

14 December 1982 – After the General Election, Fine Gael’s Garret Fitzgerald is elected Taoiseach.

2. Charles Haughey talking to Hot Press magazine 1984

“I don’t think I could say that I approve of youngsters knocking off BMWs and so on. Although, I must admit, I always had a hidden desire to do that.”

“I could instance a load of fuckers whose throats I’d cut and push over a cliff, but there’s no percentage in that.”

“Deep down, I’m a very shallow person.”

3. Fianna Fail’s Fifty Ways to Laugh at Voters 1994-2007

1. In December 1994, Celia Larkin lodged IR£28,772.90 into Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern’s bank account. Ahern says that this was £30,000 sterling cash given to him in a briefcase by his soon-to-be landlord, just after he had become Fianna Fail leader and was expected to become Taoiseach However, the amount equates exactly to $45,000 based on bank exchange rates on that date.

2. In June 1995, Celia Larkin lodged £11,743.34 into Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern’s bank account. Ahern says that £10,000 sterling of this was actually his own money, part of £50,000 that he had earlier withdrawn from his own account and used to buy £30,000 sterling. However, the bank has no record of selling £30,000 sterling to anybody during that period.

3. In January 1999, former Fianna Fail Minister Padraig Flynn appeared on the Late Late Show on RTE. Now a European Commissioner, Flynn complained about the difficulties of living on ‘just £100,000 a year’ when he had three houses, housekeepers and various cars to maintain. ‘You should try it,’ he added.

4. In November 1999, Fianna Fail TD John Ellis resigned as chairperson of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee. He owed money to farmers, he had £250,000 in debts written off by NIB, and Charles Haughey had given him £26,000 of taxpayers cash to settle other debts.

5. In February 2000, Fianna Fail TD Denis Foley resigned from the Parliamentary Party. He had £100,000 in an illegal offshore account. He said that he knew that his account might have been an Ansbacher one, but he had been ‘hoping against hope’ that it was not.

6. In May 2000, Fianna Fail Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy nominated Hugh O’Flaherty to a £147,000 job as Vice President of the European Investment Bank. O’Flaherty was a former High Court judge who had been forced to resign after a scandal the previous year.

7. In June 2000, Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor resigned from the Parliamentary Party after he misled an internal party investigation about a donation that he had got. Lawlor was also chair of the Oireachtas Joint Ethics Committee.

8. In January 2001, former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor was jailed for contempt of court when he refused to comply with orders of the Flood Tribunal.

9. In April 2001, Fianna Fail TD Beverly Flynn resigned from the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee. She had lost a libel case that she had taken against RTE, who had correctly reported that she had sold banking products designed to assist tax evaders. After losing the case, she faced a €2million legal bill.

10. In October 2001, Fianna Fail Junior Minister Joe Jacob, who was responsible for the Government’s emergency response to nuclear accidents at Sellafield, gave a comical interview on RTE radio that resulted in the Government having to send iodine tablets to every house in the country.

11. In December 2001, Fianna Fail TD Ned O’Keefe resigned as a Junior Minister. He had voted on a bill about feeding bonemeal to animals, forgetting to inform the Dail that his family was involved in manufacturing the substance.

12. In January 2002, former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor was jailed for a second time for contempt of court when he refused to comply with orders of the Flood Tribunal.

13. In February 2002, former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor was jailed for a third time for contempt of court when he refused to comply with orders of the Flood Tribunal. When the Dail called for his resignation, he was brought to Leinster House in a prison van to speak against the motion. Lawlor had previously chaired the Dail Ethics Committee.

14. In May 2002, former Fianna Fail Government press Secretary Frank Dunlop said that he paid at least £160,000 to 25 councillors in relation to the redrafting of the Dublin County Council development plan from 1991 to 1993.

15. In September 2002, the Flood Tribunal found that former Fianna Fail Government Press Secretary PJ Mara had failed to co-operate with the Tribunal, by failing to provide details of an overseas account. In the 1980s, in a Hot Press interview, Mara said that his greatest ambition was ‘never to be found out’.

16. In September 2002, the Flood Tribunal found that former Fianna Fail Justice Minister Ray Burke received corrupt payments, including £125,000 from property developers and £30,000 from the owners of Century Radio.

17. In November 2002, former Fianna Fail Government press Secretary Frank Dunlop named six Fianna Fail councilors who he bribed to secure the rezoning of land at Carrickmines in south Dublin.

18. In December 2002, former Fianna Fail Government Press Secretary Frank Dunlop told the Flood Tribunal that former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor (who he also knew as ‘Mr Big’) was the first person to tell him that money would have to be paid to councillors in return for their votes.

19. In September 2003, Fianna Fail TD GV Wright knocked down a nurse while driving under the influence of alcohol. The nurse’s leg was broken in four places.

20. In September 2003, Fianna Fail TD Michael Collins resigned from the Parliamentary Party after making a €130,000 tax settlement arising from a bogus non-resident bank account.

21. In May 2004, Fianna Fail expelled Mayo TD Beverly Flynn from the Party. Bertie Ahern said the integrity of the party depended on her expulsion, that Fianna Fail was at a crossroads, and that the party would also have to deal with any other members who transgressed ethics and standards in public life.

22. In January 2005, former Fianna Fail Justice Minister Ray Burke was jailed for six months for making false tax declarations, breaking a law that he himself had helped to pass. He served four and a half months in Arbour Hill prison.

23. In April 2005, former Fianna Fail Junior Minister for Transport, Jim McDaid, who had led an anti-drink-driving campaign, was arrested after drunkenly driving his car the wrong way up a busy dual carriageway.

24. In November 2005, with gangland crime all over the newspapers, Fianna Fail Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea posed for photographers smiling as he pointed a pistol directly into the camera.

25. In December 2005, Fianna Fail Junior Minister Ivor Callely resigned when it emerged that a top construction company had painted his house free of charge, while the company was also doing work for the Eastern Health Board of which Callely was chairperson.

26. In May 2006, Fianna Fail Junior Minister Conor Lenihan heckled Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins during a Dail debate. Higgins had been campaigning on behalf of immigrant Turkish construction workers, and Lenihan said that Higgins ‘should stick with the kebabs’.

27. In June 2006, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said at the funeral of Charles Haughey that: ‘He was a consummate politician… The definition of a patriot is someone who devotes all their energy to the betterment of their countrymen. Charles Haughey was a patriot to his finger tips.’

28. In September 2006, when Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was first asked about allegations of receiving from €50,000 and €100,000 from businessmen, he told journalists that a lot of the report was correct but that ‘the figures are off the wall.’ This, of course, was true, because he got some of the money ‘off Michael Wall’.

29. In September 2006, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that he had accepted £39,000 from friends, including the brilliantly-named Paddy the Plasterer, in 1993 and 1994. He said it was not donations but loans, and that he had tried to pay them back but they had all refused.

30. In September 2006, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern accepted that he had appointed people who gave him money to State boards, but he insisted that he did not appoint them because they gave him money. He said he had appointed them because they were his friends.

31. In September 2006, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said that, when he was Minister for Finance, he had unexpectedly received a donation of £8,000 sterling from some millionaires who he had a meal with in Manchester on the night before a Manchester United football match.

32. In October 2006, it emerged that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had bought his house from businessman Michael Wall, who had been at a dinner in Manchester at which Ahern was given £8,000 sterling. When asked why he had not previously said that Wall was at the dinner, Ahern replied that Wall had not eaten the dinner.

33. In December 2006, the Moriarty Tribunal found that former Taoiseach Charles Haughey took payments of €11.56 million, or €45 million in today’s money, between 1979 and 1996, and granted favours in return.

34. In February 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern praised the Moriarty Tribunal for its ‘outstanding work in painstakingly stripping away the layers of secrecy and obscurity surrounding Mr Haughey’s financial affairs and exposing them to public scrutiny.’

35. In May 2007, stockbroker Padraic O’Connor said that Bertie Ahern was wrong to say that he had given Ahern £5,000 as a loan from a friend in 1993. O’Connor said he was not a friend of Ahern’s, that he had been asked for a political donation of £5,000, that he had given that on a company cheque, and that he had been given in return a false invoice for consultancy work that had not been done.

36. In March 2007, Fianna Fail councillor Michael ‘Stroke’ Fahey was jailed for twelve months after being found guilty of defrauding his own council of €15,000 and falsely implicating an innocent contractor in the crime. The jailed councillor was also chairman of the Limerick Prison visiting committee.

37. In June 2007, Fianna Fail changed the law to create three new Junior Ministers with salaries of €150,000 a year. They had previously done this in 1977 and 1980. When Fine Gael did the same in 1995, Fianna Fail called it an abuse of the taxpayer and an act of hypocrisy, and Bertie Ahern vowed to abolish the new posts.

38. In June 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern made secret deals, using taxpayers money, with independent TDs to secure their support as Taoiseach. Two of these independent TDs, Beverly Flynn and Michael Lowry, had previously been forced to resign from their parties after scandals.

39. In July 2007 the Standards in Public Office Commission said that Fianna Fail had failed to report a donation in the party’s statutory declarations for 2005.

40. In July 2007, after a strenuous seven days of work since being elected in mid-June, the Dail adjourned for a three-month summer holiday.

41. In August 2007, it was revealed that Fianna Fail-led Governments have so far spent €52 million on obtaining and storing electronic voting machines that have only been used once, in a number of constituencies in 2002.

42. In August 2007, Bertie Ahern appointed as a Senator former Fianna Fail TD John Ellis, who had just lost his Dail seat in a general election, and who had resigned as chair of an Oireachtas committee after a scandal in 1999.

43. In August 2007, Bertie Ahern appointed as a Senator former Fianna Fail TD Ivor Callely, who had just lost his Dail seat in a general election, and who had resigned as a Junior Minister after a scandal in 2005.

44. In September 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, while being questioned at the Mahon Tribunal, said that he must have given £30,000 to somebody else (to make a transaction that the bank had no record for), but he didn’t know who he gave the money to.

45. In September 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, while being questioned at the Mahon Tribunal, accepted that his earlier story that Celia Larkin had made a £30,000 sterling transaction on his behalf could not be correct, unless the bank records were inaccurate.

46. In September 2007, jailed Fianna Fail councillor Michael ‘Stroke’ Fahey had missed six months of council meetings, and by law he should have been deemed to have resigned. He escaped this by asking the council to deem his absence to be ‘due to illness and attendance in Dublin’.

47. In September 2007, Fianna Fail TD Michael Collins was found guilty in court of obtaining a tax clearance certificate under false pretences. He had previously made a €130,000 tax settlement arising from a bogus non-resident bank account.

48. In October 2007, a book was published that included a claim that a serving Government Minister has admitted taking cocaine, and that he wasn’t the only one doing it. Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has made no effort to investigate this.

49. In October 2007, former Fianna Fail Government Press Secretary Frank Dunlop told the Mahon Tribunal that property developer Owen O’Callaghan paid off a debt of £10,700 for Fianna Fail councillor Colm McGrath when he was facing a court judgment.

50. In October 2007, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern became the highest paid Prime Minister in the democratic world at €310,000, more than US President George Bush at €279,000. Fianna Fail Ministers such as Willie O’Dea are paid more than US Vice President Dick Cheney.

4. Quotes from Bertie Ahern to the Mahon Tribunal

When asked what he was doing on a certain date: “The reason I probably can’t give you a better reflection of what I was doing on the 19th of January is because I didn’t do it. I am sure there are some mornings you get up and you think I might do this or I might do that and then you don’t do them, so it’s hard to remember.”

Explaining why he had no bank account while he was Minister for Finance: “There is nothing in the law or the Constitution that you should, you know, follow the normal issues. Some people put their hair yellow, some people wear rings in their nose. It’s not the normal thing.”

When asked whether a donation was political or personal: “It was a political donation for my personal use.”

Explaining sterling lodgements to his account: “As is well-known publicly I am interested in horse racing and over the years I have placed bets on horse races. Over the years I have won various sums of money. Some of these would have been paid in sterling.”

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 aleprechaunist November 8, 2014 at 5:46 am

I always felt Charley Haughey made Richard Nixon look like a boy scout.

2 Ewan Duffy November 8, 2014 at 11:09 am

I know someone (a former assistant of mine) who knows Paddy the Plasterer. I’ll happily tell you (offline) what she said about him.

3 Gurdur November 8, 2014 at 11:19 am

25 May 1982 – Fianna Fail loses the Dublin West by-election. The next day, they take away the trees that they had planted at the housing estate.

I think I found this the most reprehensible, simply because it was so petty, so malicious in a really stupid way, and so ridiculous.

4 Seymour November 8, 2014 at 11:22 am

They may treat you with contempt, all politicians do that, but at least they are open about it. The ones in the UK lie and pretend they care about the hoi polloi.

Do you politicians also make laws for the voters then make excemptions so they do have to pay?

5 Gurdur November 8, 2014 at 11:22 am

When asked why he had not previously said that Wall was at the dinner, Ahern replied that Wall had not eaten the dinner.

OK, I spoke too soon in my last comment. I swear, I thought Australian politics could be bad at times, but this takes the cake.

6 Ashling O'Brien November 8, 2014 at 11:43 am

Brilliant! Here’s another one for the list Michael, hot of the press this morning

http://www.irishtimes.com/news/politics/haughey-settled-bill-for-1979-postal-strikers-food-and-drink-1.1992854

7 MosesZD November 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm

And I thought American politics was bad…

8 Cormac November 8, 2014 at 3:47 pm

I notice that the word “mostly” is used. Who are the other politicians?

It is funny that this has come out, this week, with a heavy editorial line to pull out the FF piece. We all know FF have deep problems with corruption, but we would do well to remember that the payments to politicians tribunal called a greater number of FG people to account for monies, and Labour featured there too. The difference was the FFers got more money. The fact is then that they were all political harlots, just that some were better at haggling than others. (Or some were in government longer…).

Given this history, I am very suspicious about the identity of the other politicians involved. McGuinness should read their names into the Dáil record.

9 piero November 8, 2014 at 9:30 pm

I’m starting to believe that corruption on this scale can only occur in Catholic-dominated countries: Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Latin America.

10 Aneris ✻ November 8, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Curiously, its always (so far I know) the right wing or conservative parties that are cought more often with corruption (they are also more prone to scare monger, spread falsehood and other dubious tricks to influence opinions). They are either more corrupt than other parties, or more stupid and get themselves caught more often. How is it in other countries? One of the biggest scandals in Germany was also about money donations and of course it hit the conservative party, too — our ex-chancellor (1982—1998) Helmut Kohl would not name names because, he said he gave a “word of honour” and that somehow settled it. Thought the party was fined.

11 piero November 9, 2014 at 2:20 am

@Aneris:

Curiously, its always (so far I know) the right wing or conservative parties that are cought more often with corruption

That appears to be the case in Italy too. In fact, the further you move to the right, the more cases of corruption you find.

12 piero November 9, 2014 at 2:20 am

Botched quote. Damn!

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