Category: Archive

Dublin Report In Ireland, sleaze can be a ticket to success

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

"Down" and "Out" was the apt Star headline describing two of the main news events of the week in Ireland. "Down" was Peter Mandelson, former Northern Ireland secretary, sacked by Prime Minister Tony Blair as the result of a ridiculous error in judgment. "Out" was ex-Fianna Fail T.D. Liam Lawlor, released from Mountjoy prison after spending a week there as a guest of the nation.

In Ireland, it was that sort of a week, full of ups and downs. Political sleaze or no sleaze, it was very much a week of "ups" for Fianna Fail.

Despite all of its difficulties, including shocking daily revelations at the two tribunals in Dublin Castle, and intermittent public criticism of Bertie Ahern’s unconventional relationship with Celia Larkin, a newly released poll published in the Irish Times reveals that 66 percent of the population support him.

In the immediate wake of the last budget, the public satisfaction rating of the government has risen by 15 points to an extremely high 58 percent. In the view of such findings, the coalition government would certainly regain power in the event of an early general election.

Under the leadership of John Bruton, who is coming under increased low-key criticism from some of his party’s leading member, Fine Gael continues to flounder. The poll reveals that it has lost 4 points. It now enjoys the support of only 20 percent of the electorate.

Sign up to The Irish Echo Newsletter

The other main opposition party, Labor, led by Ruairi Quinn, gets a 15 percent approval rating from the public, a loss of 2 points.

Surprisingly, in view of the harsh criticism often directed at the leader of the Progressive Democrats, Mary Harney, because of her continued support, as tanaiste for Bertie Ahern, the party has 4 percent in the approval ratings. It now stands at 3 percent.

Among the other minority parties, Sinn Fein continues to gain further support. It now stands at 5 per cent, a gain of 1. It is ahead of the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party.

However, Ahern continues to adopt the public stance that he will not enter into any post-election deals with Sinn Fein until the IRA decommissions its weapons.

The poll results are surprising in light of the public scandals surrounding senior Fianna Fail figures, culminating with the imprisonment of Lawlor. They also reveal a major difference in public tolerance between the UK and Ireland.

Mandelson, the former Northern Ireland secretary, was sacked by his long-time friend, the man he put into power as leader of the Labor Party, for an offense that the Irish electorate would regard as being relatively minor.

What brought Mandelson down was that he had a discussion with the home secretary concerning the granting of citizenship to the Hindjua brothers, the Indian financial moguls who contributed so much to the building of the hopelessly controversial London Millennium Dome.

As a project, it just never took off. The Dome collapsed in ignominy.

Mandelson’s reply to a seemingly innocuous parliamentary question was misleading. He was economic with the truth. And he was finally forced to admit that he had misled the House of Commons.

In Ireland, that would not be regarded as a political mortal sin. The Irish public has heard details of the sale of Irish passports to many foreign businessmen. Under the program, now abandoned, designed to attract new investment in "Ireland Inc." passports were freely granted to aliens.

In some cases, the beneficiaries of the foreign investment were companies owned, or managed, by the families of major politicians themselves. The pet food industry owned by the Reynolds family in Longford is one such example.

One of the major matters under current investigation by the Moriarty Tribunal in private sittings is the alleged sale of a yearling for £50,000 to an international horse breeder, Mahmoud Fustok, the brother in-law of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

The yearling is said to have been sold by former taoiseach Charles J. Haughey from his daughter’s stud farm at Kinsealy. There are no records to back up the details of the alleged sale.

But the Fustok family certainly obtained Irish passports, a highly valuable commodity for a Saudi Arabian family intent on doing business in the Western world.

A former minister for health, Dr. John O’Connell, introduced Fustok to Haughey. In turn, O’Connell became acquainted with the Fustoks in London. His son and namesake, young Dr. John O’Connell, had been a medical student with a member of the Fustok family.

When the senior O’Connell defected to Fianna Fail from the Labor Party and won a seat with a stunning victory in the constituency of Dublin South, he was convinced he was assured of a major role as minister for health in the Haughey-led government.

He was bitterly and resentfully disappointed when it did not transpire.

As the person who had introduced Haughey to the Saudi Arabian mogul, O’Connell knew more about the relationship between the two than anyone did. In fact, Fustok had presented him with the £50,000 check for Haughey for the alleged sale of the yearling at a London luncheon.

In common parlance, the disappointed doctor knew where the bodies were buried.

Everyone has a price. A few years later, Albert Reynolds finally decided to tackle Haughey in a head-on fight for the Fianna Fail leadership. He did so with the support of O’Connell, the man who knew all about that £50,000 check — and perhaps a few other things as well.

It was a major surprise when the Fianna Fail leader stood down, rather than continue the fight against Reynolds. Even now, nobody knows why he made that decision.

Possibly it was because he was concerned that certain matters might have been made public — and perhaps this was because he learned his rival had been made aware of the £50,000 check.

If this was so, it was certainly not the result of any information provided by Fustok, who owns stud farms in Virginia and France.

When Reynolds took over as taoiseach, he immediately appointed O’Connell minister for health.

As they say, everybody has a price.

Unlike Britain, politics are often murkier and the scandals more dense in Irish politics.

In Ireland, Mandelson might have become a political icon instead of a disgraced failure.

Other Articles You Might Like

Sign up to our Daily Newsletter

Click to access the login or register cheese