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One Law For The Rich
EAMONN McCANN on the lessons he learned from the comeback of Paddy Gallagher
Eamonn McCann, 27 Apr 2000
If you ve heard it once, you ve heard it a hundred times none of the hooks, crooks, thieves and fraudsters who ran and robbed the Republic in the 1970s, 80s and 90s will ever spend a day in jail.
Small wonder they appear so serene as they bustle importantly from Tribunal hearing to boardroom meeting, from the winners enclosure at Leopardstown to the members bar at the Dail.
They sold their votes to the highest bidder, ravaged the landscape with inappropriate buildings, robbed the poor to enrich themselves, lied under oath to save their skins, but no matter. They won t go to jail. We ve heard it said, and said it ourselves, a hundred times.
And it s only the half of it. The other half is that even if they do go to jail, they ll come out unscathed and unrepentant, to carry on carrying on the same as before.
Patrick Gallagher was one of the very few ever to find himself in a cell. Not in the Republic, but up in the Black North, where the justice system has endured certain criticism down the years but has obviously managed to get some things right. Or at any rate righter than they ve been gotten down South.
Gallagher went to prison for being a thief, convicted of stealing #120,000 from people who d put their savings in a bank called Merchant Banking Limited, which he owned with his brother Paul. He used the money to fund a series of dodgy property deals, and was rumbled when some of the scams fell through.
Now, if you or I or anybody we re likely to know came out of prison after 18 months inside for thieving from people much poorer than ourselves, we might be worried about the welcome we d receive. A deep breath and a slight surge of nervousness, perhaps, even shame, as we moseyed down the pub on our first night of freedom. We d be concerned what decent people would think of us. But that s not the way things work when you are Patrick Gallagher and mix with people of the same stamp.
Jailed in 1990, released in 1992, Gallagher has rebuilt his empire . He again owns property worth millions in Dublin, north Wicklow and in other prime residential areas of Ireland, as well as abroad .
"He spends most of the year in Africa", these days, "mainly Cape Town, sometimes Zimbabwe, sometimes Mozambique or Madagascar, wherever there is a deal to be made".
To much of the world, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Madasgascar are countries of turmoil and pain, disaster and scarcity, where plain people struggle against oppression and greed to tear some dignity from life. But to Patrick Gallagher, they are places where deals might be made. There is, of course, a direct connection between the deals done by Gallagher and his ilk in and to such countries and the deprivation within them which occasionally catches the eye of the world.
How did the spiv Gallagher contrive his comeback? Hard work, imagination, entrepreneurial flair, a readiness to take risks other mortals might shy away from?
None of these. He was greeted on his emergence by a close network of friends there to help (him) get back on his feet . These friends clubbed up to provide the money to re-launch his career. So we are informed by a Ms. Gayle Killilea in a poorly-written piece in the Sunday Independent (April 16).
Gayle might have chatted to the "relaxed and sun-tanned" Gallagher on one of his frequent trips home to Ireland. He drinks in the Horseshoe Bar at the Shelbourne, dines in the Unicorn on Merrion Row, hangs out with the sort of people Charlie McCreevy says it is pinko begrudgery to resent. But, "he insisted on being interviewed in Cape Town so that he could not be hounded by other journalists . . .
No bother to the Sunday Independent, apparently, to stump up the exes. for Ms. Killilea to rendezvous privately with the ex-con at "the scenic Steenberg Wine Estate at the foot of the Constaniaberg Mountains".
Ms. Killilea found Gallagher tall and tanned with blue eyes that constantly sparkle with laughter . . . intelligent, dynamic and articulate . . . One of those people who take up space when they enter a room . . . loves to sing, laugh, and drink, and he just oozes confidence . . . the only thing that makes this man sit still is a good Scotch and soda . . .
He has more time now for wining and dining with racing pals Eddie O Grady and John Magnier, who hit Cape Town occasionally .
Many might think that a convicted crook would be a mite circumspect about criticising the propriety of others' behaviour. But not a bit of it.
Gallagher was at pains to convey his support for Taxing Master James Flynn for having lashed out last month at the way Tribunals in Dublin are hounding people for doing . . . well, much the sort of thing Mr. Gallagher was thrown into jail for.
Taxing Master Flynn had been very brave to speak out . . . The whole tribunal situation has got out of hand . . . The tribunals are ruining the country s economy. Outside investment into Ireland has disappeared.
We should give over with all this probing into bribery and corruption and get back to normal times .
All this is printed in the Sunday Independent in a context which invites readers to regard the sentiments as entirely reasonable, even admirable. Ordinary citizens of the Republic who were robbed by Gallagher have never been compensated. (The British state recompensed his Northern victims.) Some live lives of unquiet desperation as a result. But the man who swindled them assures Ms. Killilea that he and his brother Paul stand ready to supply the perjurer and corrupt politician Charlie Haughey with a million pounds or #3m, if necessary so that he can live the rest of his years with peace of mind .
I set all this out, not in order to boil anybody s blood with anger, much less in an effort to encourage the powers-that-be in the Republic to take belated action against this arrogant oaf. That would be a waste of space.
The point is to show that the law isn t an ass. That the law is an ass is a lie told to children to explain away injustice. The law isn't an idiotic edifice of rules and requirements which generate anomalies through capriciousness or incompetence. Injustice and anomaly are firmly built-in.
The law isn t designed or intended to apply to the likes of Patrick Gallagher in the same way as it applies to you or me or a blagger from Ballyer.
It s because Gallagher and his sort are fully aware of this that he can show relative disregard for the fact that he was found out . He has calm certainty that his arrest and jailing was a mistake, an abberation, an accident, the unfortunate result of unpredicted and unpredictable circumstances. It doesn't mean anything has gone fundamentally wrong.
After all, he did nothing any more or less reprehensible than is done day and daily by other much-admired members of the Republic s ruling class.
What is illustrated here is that the essential purpose of the law is not to secure justice but to monitor society so as to keep it safe as can be for people like Patrick Gallagher to make money in. Insofar as the law sometimes fouls up and frustrates them in making money, the law is wrong-headed, and needs putting right Somebody had to shout stop! Gallagher told Killilea umpteen times in the course of their genial conversation "under the blazing South African sun", referring not to bribery and corruption in Irish public life but to investigation of bribery and corruption.
The line is spoken by one unrepentant crook, but sums up the view of the entire crooked class which he comes from.
Anybody in authority who tells you to have respect for the law is a knave.
Any among you who believes them is a fool.