Jul 17th, 2012 by Donagh
You know when you read a phrase or someone mentions it and it kind of rings a bell?
Well, I always associate the phrase ‘we’re no angels’ not with the two films of that name, but with John Burton mainly because of the column written by Gene Kerrigan where he tells the story of Fine Gael councillor Tom Hand and his appearance in the final Mahon tribunal report.
Fine Gael is playing it cool. Low-key expressions of disgust. The impression they’re aiming at is quiet high-mindedness. Oh, indeed, they suggest — if only we’d been in charge . . .
They must be relieved that the media didn’t seem to have room for the Tom Hand affair. You know about the Tom Hand affair? Try pages 930-939 of the Mahon report. Back in the early Nineties, a Fine Gael councillor called Tom Hand claimed to Frank Dunlop that he’d been offered £100,000 to vote against allowing Owen O’Callaghan’s Quarryvale project to go ahead. So, if Frank wanted him to vote for the project it would cost £250,000.
I like the sound of this guy. Most wimpy councillors charged one or two grand — Tom sounds like a man who believed in himself.
Frank Dunlop was outraged that Tom wanted so much. He warned Tom he’d tell his party leader, John Bruton. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest, says Tom. So, in May 1993, Frank told Mr Bruton that a Fine Gael councillor was looking for a “substantial sum of money” for his vote.
Which was when, wielding the sword of truth and justice, John Bruton tore the whole scandal wide open, drenched it in the disinfectant of transparency and killed dead the culture of corruption that . . . oh, wait a minute, that’s in some alternate reality.
In this world, John Bruton replied to Frank: “Neither Fine Gael or the world is populated by angels.” He was “disinclined” to believe Dunlop, he said later, and “wary” of him. Anyway, he told the tribunal, it was up to Dunlop to go to the cops, “as political parties were not equipped to conduct criminal inquiries”.
Seven years later, in April 2000, there was a leak saying Dunlop would reveal this story at the tribunal. Mr Bruton sent barrister George Bermingham into the tribunal to flatly deny Dunlop told him any such thing. In December 2003 he told the tribunal the conversation he had with Dunlop was “inconsequential”.
In October 2007, when Dunlop gave sworn evidence on this, Mr Bruton mulled over the details and then told the tribunal that the phrase about no angels in Fine Gael “sort of rung a bell in my mind”. And “it gradually came back to me that in fact Mr Dunlop had said something to me, that wasn’t inconsequential”.
Nineteen months after Dunlop told Mr Bruton about Tom Hand, Mr Bruton became Taoiseach. Which was when, wielding the sword of truth and justice, Mr Bruton . . . well, he appointed Michael Lowry to the cabinet. Mr Lowry informed Mr Bruton he was a tax evader who took advantage of a tax amnesty, but this didn’t seem to be a barrier to advancement.
So, when I read this today, it kind of rang a bell.
But the political leaders of the euro zone come at things from a very different angle. While they understand the bond buyers’ craving for certainty, they are engaged in a complex multidimensional political negotiation, in which they have to balance the interests of 17 different sets of national taxpayers, some of whom want to shift liabilities and others of whom who want to take on as little liability as possible.
The political negotiation is further complicated by the fact that the EU does not yet have the legal power to do some of the things it needs to do. And some of its members want to trade agreement on new powers for national concessions. Britain is the most outstanding example, but more recently Italy played that game. In Ireland, one political party wanted to veto the ESM, though beneficial to Ireland, simply to get concessions on something else. This sort of silly thing goes on often in EU negotiations, because EU negotiations are conducted by humans, not by angels.
So European politicians, according to John Bruton are exactly the same as extremely corrupt Fine Gael local county councilors and TDs seeking to use their decision making power to line their pockets and the party coffers at the same time. Coz, you know, that’s politics.