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Awash in sleaze

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

“We declare the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland . . .” We can easily forgive the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation for making the occasional sweeping and rather impossibly idealistic statement. After all, time wasn’t exactly on their side at the outset of Easter Week. But it would be interesting indeed to hear what Clarke, MacDiarmada, Pearse, Connolly and the others might say about contemporary Ireland, if, by a miracle perchance, they were brought back for a tour of the island for which they so selflessly laid down their lives.

They would find much to admire and much to be concerned about. Not the least of their concerns would be an immediate sense that their vision of ownership, while indeed, perhaps, something of a high-minded generalization, did not quite envisage a system in which who-pays-most-wins while virtually nobody — and certainly not “the people” as they understood the term — gets to hear about it.

But that’s the manner in which a significant and secretive part of their Ireland, if the flood of current evidence bears out, has been conducting its affairs, seemingly for many years.

The whiff of corruption is nothing new in the Republic. Indications of shady deals and underhand transactions amid the ranks of the politically and financially privileged have been surfacing for quite some time now. And the Irish have something of a nose and tolerance for skullduggery. The daily shocks and revelations of the past couple of years will not totally surprise the majority. But what appears to be the sheer size of the graft-fueled society now coming to light is, to put it mildly, something of a shock to the system of a country that has long seen itself as a special place, better than most, tolerant of wrongs, so long as the wrongdoers don’t lose the run of themselves.

Ireland has always managed to retain a sense of proportion. Rogues exist. So do saints. It’s simply the way things are. But the Ireland of the 90s has become less tolerant of such simplicities. Fueled by a newly sprung and, yes, more secular system of values, Irish society has seen fit to unravel and expose what was once considered normal, everyday and absolutely private business. This is a good thing, reminiscent of standards applied in well-advanced economies, such as the United States, where the stakes, at all economic levels of society, tend to be especially high.

Much of the dirt currently being retrieved from under the Irish carpet pertains to the early part of the decade, before that time, back into the 1980s, and before that time again. The one particularly bitter pill for many who were forced to quit Ireland during the economic slump of the mid-80s is the revelation now that emigration was, for the most part, the fate of the just. For some who stayed behind, Ireland was apparently a cash cow supreme, worth hanging on to at all costs.

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