I delivered the majority of this speech in the Dáil this week:
“I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Mahon Tribunal Report. The report confirmed so much of what most people believed – that corruption was rampant throughout our political system from the very highest office in the land down.
The poor example given and tolerated trickled down the political tree to create a toxic culture of brown bags and shady decisions in our planning system. The report is very detailed, very broad and covers more than 3,500 pages, costing the State €300 million. Many people are rightly concerned at the sheer cost of the tribunal and are asking what actions will now take place to ensure that corrupt practices will not and cannot be repeated. In this regard – I welcome the immediate referral of the report to the Garda Commissioner, The Revenue Commissioners, CAB, and The Standards in Public Office Commission. Individuals named as corrupt in this report must be held responsible.
The length of time which the tribunal took, all of 15 years was quiet considerable and in my view, we need to devise and introduce a system of enquiry which will be more efficient and cost effective. Our democracy is not necessarily as robust as we would like to think it is. There is no doubt that at the moment and as the Mahon Tribunal publishes its final report that our democracy has been rocked and is have become fragile. If as an Oireachtas we do not act decisively and quickly on the conclusions and recommendations of Mahon we run the risk of adding to this undermining of what it is we should cherish and work constructively at – a strong, robust democratic system which we can pride ourselves on.
There is no doubt that as Public Representatives in this house that we have a serious problem. I personally believe that the Constitutional Referendum in relation to Powers of Enquiry for Oireachtas Committees failed last year for the reason that Irish people quite simply do not trust politicians in relation to investigation. Mahon somewhat bears this out:
“It continued because nobody was prepared to do enough to stop it. This is perhaps inevitable when corruption ceases to become an isolated event and becomes so entrenched that it is transformed into an acknowledged way of doing business. Specifically, because corruption affected every level of Irish political life, those with the power to stop it were frequently implicated in it.”
This perception as now presented by Justice Mahon, despite laudable exceptions, such as the DIRT inquiry, was clear in people’s minds last October.
We did indeed have a member on the DIRT inquiry involved in off-Shore Accounting. We had a principal, now deceased, character from Mahon as Chair of an Oireachtas Committee on Ethics. This type of carry-on does not go unnoticed and as such the people were not prepared to allow us in our current state any further powers of inquiry. It gives a clear and unambiguous indication of how it is we are viewed and mistrusted.
It’s our task now to rebuild that trust in the political system and more swiftly on implementing the recommendations contained therein.
One of the most depressing aspects outside of the conclusions of Mahon is the fact that it was widely known by people throughout the State how wide spread corruption in planning was and in turn that the practice was tolerated for so long.
Journalist Joe McAnthony left Ireland disillusioned in 1973 having exposed elements of Planning Corruption. We had Garda investigations down blind alleyways in 1973, 1989 and 1993.
The corrosive link between those in whatever area of authority was ultimately best manifested by the appearance of Padraig Flynn former EU Commissioner, Minister, TD & Co. Councillor on the 1999 Late Late Show. I watched this interview again last weekend. To say that it is extraordinary is an understatement, even using the prism of then and now. The impunity shown is still breath-taking after 13 years and can only be explained as the response of someone who believes themselves untouchable. Nobody can feel this way and express themselves in such a manner without years of experience.
The vast majority of all Public Representatives, Public Servants and Citizens act and go about their business with Honesty & Integrity.
The actions of the corrupt minority do however have a hugely disproportionate effect on both the Irish psyche and in a very real material sense of how we live and have to live today and in the future, whether it is through Planning, Banking or Business.
It is for this reason that I wholeheartedly agree that anyone found guilty of corruption must pay a heavy price if we are to make any progress.
I am not naïve enough to believe that we can live in a Utopia and as this is so, we have to make absolutely sure that we mitigate against corruption by making the price one pays for corrupt acts very high.
Planning and the system whereby lands are zoned and rezoned needs to be critically overhauled. It needs in my view to become driven by communities as opposed to being driven by developers. So many estates have been built in the wrong places without proper infrastructure and facilities because of poor planning decisions. In this regard, I welcome the contribution earlier today by Minister of State Jan O’Sullivan in which she outlined her plans of reform and her desire to change the system. It’s significant that Minister O’Sullivan is a Super Junior Minister and sits at Cabinet so this issue will get priority.
In conclusion I thank Justice Mahon for his work, I thank him for his recommendations and conclusions and I look forward to the recommendations being implemented.”