Saturday, October 06, 2007

Happy 10th Birthday Irish Planning Corruption Tribunal; Land Rezoning Reform: ZERO

Dublin Castle, the location of public corruption tribunals -Politicians were revealed to have sold their integrity for as low as €3,000.

The corrupt land rezoning system that makes multi-millionaire of farmers and others, is immune from reform.

Irish politicians are not known for political courage or conviction, whether in the area of social policy that is left to the Courts or economic issues that would challenge vested interests.

For more than four decades, the Irish population has been threatened with shame and embarrassment by being hauled before the courts for non-payment of a television licence - or let's call it a tax, for this purpose.

During much of that time, anyone who could evade taxes, did it on a massive scale and to borrow a line from the late Queen of Mean, Leona Helmsley, who recently hit the news by willing her dog $12 million: "We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes."

Some of our little people, were charmed by a political leader such as Charles Haughey and bought into a plot similar to the James Stewart 1946 film It's A Wonderful Life.

In our history, the name "Oliver Cromwell" and the word "landlord" has induced frisson in many an Irish person.

Haughey's mentor, current Taoiseach Bertie Ahern however has done a good makeover on the word "landlord" with another sequel to the James Stewart story. This time, the angel Clarence in the person of Michael Wall brings a case full of cash to the distraught "George Bailey." The angel as the landlord, not only wills his house to the tenant but in the event of the tenant's death, to the latter's children.

There are believers in UFOs and yarns but beyond stories of sterling and dollars, there are two striking aspects to the Irish Planning Corruption Tribunal that will celebrate its tenth anniversary next month.

News of the nexus between land rezoning - Ireland's crack cocaine - and politics is no news. Secondly, after a decade of public confirmation of corruption, the system that spawned the corruption, has been subject to ZERO reform.

The days of the brown envelope may be past but anyone who believes that the incentives for more subtle forms of corruption have abated, is an idiot, given the huge value changes that rezoning decisions, or the prospect of them, trigger.

Is there a prospect of change? Absolutely not.

My mother used to say to expect nothing and you won't be disappointed. In that regard, it is arguable that the Green Party leadership has done more damage to the reputation of politics in recent times, than anyone else.

John Gormley's Faustian bargain for power is not tied to measurable objectives such as changing the corrupt rezoning system but to more stellar ones such as saving the polar ice-cap. While important too, the reality is that an Irish politician, representing 4 million from a global population of 6.5 billion, has to comply with EU targets and piggy-back on the credit of others from more significant economies, if there will be anything to brag about.

The Irish Times reported last May: Green Party leader Trevor Sargent described the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern as a political "dead man walking" and claimed no party would be willing to serve in a coalition government led by him because of the questions about his personal finances.

He said he could not "see any party to be honest accepting the moral authority which is expected of a taoiseach with Bertie Ahern in that office".

"I feel that Bertie Ahern as a result of the Tánaiste essentially calling him a liar is politically now a dead man walking. When people vote for Fianna Fáil the question will be on their minds as to who they are voting for as leader because it's very likely it won't be Bertie Ahern."

He added: "The questions of his own personal finances and his relations with individuals which he didn't want to make public but has been made public, does, I believe, call for a new start in Irish politics where standards are set at the very highest level which take out any confusion about vested interests and who controls decision making in Government."

Trust me? And the same people bewail widespread cynicism!

Within weeks, Trevor Sargent avidly drank the soup despite the cant on moral authority and became a Minister in Ahern's Government!

On September 26th, Green Party Leader John Gormley spoke in support of Bertie Ahern in a Dáil confidence debate: When the Green Party made the decision to enter Government last June, its members knew a process was in train and that the Taoiseach was due to give evidence to the Mahon tribunal. It has been our consistent line that we will await the outcome of that tribunal. It is important that the tribunal be allowed to conduct its work unimpeded and that no attempt is made to prejudge the outcome.

Consistent? Four months is a long time to be consistent!

Change does happen eventually in Ireland but don't doubt that it's at a slower pace than the glacial speed in the Arctic and the penny may well drop at some point for the Dr Faustus of modern Irish politics.

The message on the one tax - the television licence - that continues to get promotion on the broadcasting airwaves, has also changed in recent times.

Besides scaring the little people, business owners who may be dawdling the day away watching trash daytime TV, are now also under threat of shame and embarrassment not only in the courts but in front of staff, when an inspector calls.

That's progress at least, if not a little more democratic but dare anyone impinge on the potential bonanzas for farmers - who are already largely dependent for most of their income on European taxpayers, and continue to have the opportunity of a double-dip with the system of rezoning, paid for dearly by house purchasers!

John Gormley's Planet Bertie Speech Feb 2007

Irish Politics and the Value of "Values" - - Minister for the Environment and Green Party leader says in Feb 2007 that the Fianna Fáil party is "without vision or values" and that Michael McDowell, then PD leader was Bertie Ahern's Tammy Wynette - Stand by your Man - a role Gormley plays months later.

Gormley may well have done more damage to the reputation of Irish politics than Bertie Ahern because of the huge gulf between his words and actions.

Postscript: It will be reassuring that a poll apparently conducted by the Sunday Independent among 400 people on Friday, by a team of "professional telephone pollsters", has found that the public's support for Bertie Ahern has not wavered.

The identities of the "professional telephone pollsters" is not given in contrast with polls published by other newspapers. Readers have to make up their own minds if the poll is a figment of someone's imagination.

Whether it's the Wall Street Journal, the Irish Independent or the Irish Times, no serious newspaper has its staff call people from the phone book and then present it as a poll.

If the poll did take place, it's clear that it wasn't scientific.

Anyway, the Taoiseach's satisfaction rating "remains rock solid" at 50 per cent, five points ahead of Mr Kenny (45 per cent), with the new Labour leader, Eamon Gilmore at 43 per cent.

The Greens leader, John Gormley, "will be heartened" by his emergence as the second most popular leader (47 per cent), a possible reflection of his continued support for Mr Ahern (what a surprise???), and of his party honouring its deal to stay in Government, in the face of huge political and media pressure in the aftermath of the Taoiseach's evidence to the Mahon Tribunal.

The so-called "poll" appears to be another front in a newspaper war.

Sunday Business Post Political Correspondent Pat Leahy writes:

The Taoiseach’s future has become a sort of ideological battleground between two newspapers, neither of which takes prisoners.

The Sunday Independent has followed its abrupt pre-election u-turn by backing Ahern aggressively in its news pages and in many of its opinion columns. The Irish Daily Mail - and particularly its Sunday edition, a direct competitor for mid-market readers - has hounded Ahern relentlessly and mercilessly.

It is a brutal commercial conflict, personalised by the antipathy many of the journalists on each paper appear to feel for their rivals, an antipathy that is openly acknowledged. Recently one Sunday Independent columnist decried the ‘‘British newspaper’’ for trying to take down an ‘‘elected Irish Taoiseach’’.

The Mail responds by boasting of its scoops on Ahern’s finances and sneering at the Sunday Independent’s sudden conversion to Ahern’s cause.

The Mail says the facts are against Ahern; the Sunday Independent says the people are on his side.Maybe both will turn out to be right. But Ahern has fought his last election as leader of his party; the support of the people is not as important for him as it was before May.

And one thing is certain: Fianna Fail will not fight an election to save him.