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Or why Ireland s fabulously wealthy aren t in favour of tribunals
Eamonn McCann, 31 Aug 2000
It s commonly said that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor. But that s not the way the rich see it.
In their perspective, there s law for the poor and none for the rich.
Take the vast criminality revealed by the various Tribunals.
In the Sunday Tribune a couple of weeks back (September 3rd), three of the most fabulously rich Irish people of the era, Tony O Reilly, Michael Smurfit and Tony Ryan, spelt out their attitude.
O Reilly: Tribunals are an instrument of politics, not of law. They are an opportunity for prurience, allowing people to look over the garden wall. There is a certain voyeurism about the notion of having a non-judicial body look into these things that is attractive to some people .
Smurfit: I don t see that it does Ireland any good to have what s going on dragged through...This is self-flagellation As soon as these tribunals are over and done with, the better for everybody... (The Irish) always have to complain about something We have to bitch about some damn thing .
Ryan: (The tribunals) are of no interest to anyone other than the Irish public The Irish just like this type of gossip It s time now to put it behind us .
In the view of these three, it s not corrupt businessmen and politicians but those who want the truth about the corruption revealed who are morally deficient.
What irritates them is not the theft and bribery which has been exposed, but the fact that it has been exposed. What angers them most is that the masses, the plain people, the great unwashed, have been allowed sight of the reality of how the rich amassed their wealth and how they hold onto it.
The idea that the ruling-class criminals should be pursued and punished doesn t surface in any of the three interviews. Or insofar as it does, elicits only a shudder of distaste and alarm.
Not that they need worry. The option of pursuit and punishment hasn t seriously been on the agenda.
In 1994 the most senior officials of Larry Goodman s beef empire were found to have engaged in a massive criminal conspiracy to defraud the Exchequer and taxpayers . To many, the follow-through might have seemed obvious. The miscreants might have been tried, convicted and sentenced to any term of imprisonment up to life .
But in the intervening years, neither Goodman nor any of his top cronies has been charged, much less tried, convicted or sentenced.
The quotes are from Michael McDowell, then a PD member of the Dail and scourge of Albert Reynolds government for its failure to crack down on Goodman-related crookery. Mr. McDowell is now Attorney General, the chief law officer of the land, in the government of Reynolds successor.
In office, McDowell has sung as dumb and done as little that s to say nothing at all about the massive criminal conspiracy he postured about when in opposition.
If any of the crooks before the current Tribunals have occasion, despite all, to feel anxious at the prospect of being tried, convicted and sentenced, they need only cast their eyes to heaven, where, as likely as not, they will espy Mr. Goodman s private helicopter as it chatters across the sky, ferrying the beef baron to another session of wheeling and dealing.
None could reasonably find fault with Mr. Goodman if he sometimes glances down at the drones as they slouch towards work or queue for a bus, and mumurs, Suckers .
Or they might cast an eye on an Irish Times headline the day before the Tribune feature on the three Irish wretches: AIB may be prepared to pay up to #150m for unpaid DIRT .
The story told that, after intense, fraught discussion, AIB bosses had expressed themselves willing to pay #150m to settle the debt arising from the tax-scam by which the bank had conspired to defraud the Exchequer of huge sums of money between 1986 and 1991. It seemed that AIB directors were none too happy with the arrangement they were themselves proposing. They d pay the money, the source explained the article also included a direct quote from AIB s current frontman, Ruairi Quinn s smarter brother Lochlainn to get this affair behind them .
But if the Revenue Commissioners demanded more, AIB would consider legal action .
Readers might care to consider what the reaction would be if two chaps who featured in another bank robbery story in the same edition of The Irish Times were to adopt a similar attitude and announce that they d be prepared to do, say, six months: but any attempt to bang them up for a longer stretch wouldn t be tolerated.
The situations are not, admittedly, identical.
One: the fellows who, it is alleged, tried to rob the Dunleer, Co. Louth, branch of Bank of Ireland the previous day are held in custody in Mountjoy and might find it more difficult than the Quinn brother to make contact with the press.
Two: it is only alleged that the two Louth rapscallions attempted robbery. The directors of AIB, on the other hand, were caught bang to rights by the Dail Public Accounts Committee.
And three: the amount of money held in the Dunleer branch of B of I which it s claimed the pair tried to steal will have been tiny in comparison with the zillion pound theft in which AIB was involved.
Another difference is that I think we can detect in the AIB chiefs tone that none of them has lost a night s sleep worrying about sleepless nights in Mountjoy.
Sure, they participated in a hundred-million pound (minimum) fraud. But sure the victims were the plain people of Ireland. And nobody goes to jail for picking the pockets of the plain people.
The lesson is clear for anyone out there considering bank robbery as a career. Don t join the people who rob banks. Join a bank and rob the people.
The point is that when louts like O Reilly, Smurfit and Ryan dismiss the revelations of criminal wrong-doing as unimportant they speak for the political and legal system. Which is just another way of saying that it's their system the rest of us live under.
It s a fact, not a slogan, that the rich are above the law, that prisons are for the poor, and that nothing has been done or will be done about this within the existing system of politics and law.
Merely raging against the immorality and injustice of it won t change anything either.
The phenomenon we are confronted with here is class solidarity. The international entrepreneur might disdain the grubbiness of the relationship between gurrier Fianna Failers from north Dublin and Mayo on the one hand and mountebank builders in shiny-arsed suits on the other. But he ll stick by his own when it comes to the crunch, knowing that unity is strength in the face of danger to the overall interest.
What s needed is not reform of procedures or a new resolve to root out cronyism . What s needed is for our side to show the same understanding as theirs of the class nature of the society we live in.
If Irish trade union officialdom had a half ounce of the class consciousness which O Reilly, Smurfit and Ryan have in tons, the ILDA train dispute, for example, would have had a very different outcome, and would have put manners on the bosses of Iarnrod, as a preliminary to settling accounts generally.
Judges used to say, and some come close to saying it still, that women assaulted while out at night looking well were asking for it.
If anything misfortunate were to befall any of our troika of morally unhygienic blackguards and a decent person were to be charged in relation to the occurence, might not the published comments of the three be introduced as evidence that the fuckers were asking for it?