Category: Archive

Dublin Report: Ireland enthralled by unfolding Ansbacher probe

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

It would take all day to read the pages and pages of reports in Irish newspapers emanating from the various inquiries into "Ireland Inc."

There is the DIRT inquiry, the investigation by the Dail subcommittee into various sharp financial practices, perpetrated mainly by those assumed pillars of capitalistic society, the banks.

Then, there’s the Flood Tribunal into planning scams, which has immigrated temporarily to the pleasant, tax-free Guernsey Island in the English Channel, so that Justice James Flood can double as a commissioner to hear the evidence of a former Irish construction worker in private.

He’s the only man, apart from a myriad of well-paid counsel, who can hear the unbridled evidence of the man they call "Senior."

And who is "Senior?" He is Joe Murphy Sr., a big, once strong, Irishman and construction worker. He made it huge in the world of heavy engineering with his company, Joe Murphy Structural Engineers. It grew to become a mega UK-based company.

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Murphy’s company employed thousands of Irish emigrants through the years and was one that, by some accounts, paid big wages.

It was also involved in many projects, housing and otherwise, in Ireland.

That’s where the problems began. One of the men who worked for it was the executive James Gogarty. Once, a close friend of Joe Sr., he blew the whistle on alleged illegal bribes to prominent politicians in return for planning favors that added millions to the value of land in the Dublin suburbs.

A main recipient, according to Gogarty, was the former minister for foreign affairs, Ray Burke. When he admitted the receipt of cash for his election expenses, Raybo, as they call him in his native north County Dublin, resigned.

Some of this has been exposed in the pages of the Independent Group of Newspaper. Not all, of course.

The owner of that group, Tony O’Reilly, has lodged a suit against the Irish Times because it alleged that he was a holder of Ansbacher deposits, an unregistered bank administered by the late Des Traynor, who advised, among others, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey.

If ever it goes to court, it will prove to be one of the most incredible cases ever in Irish jurisprudence. Not alone is the Irish Times sticking by its allegation that O’Reilly was an Ansbacher deposit holder, but it has also named the former directors of Fitzwilliam, the investment company set up by O’Reilly and pals, as fellow holders.

The Ansbacher deposits were nothing but a systematic tax scam for the very rich and the very privileged.

So, what are to make of this picture of Ireland as it was? Even those who were closest to the action in the late 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, now tend to shun the newspapers. Every day is not just a school day. It is a revelation. Cynicism toward Irish institutions, the church and now business, has hit new depths of despair. Nobody is surprised to be even more surprised.

There is little levity. Just about the only humorous point to be made at the DIRT inquiry was made by the former taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, when he was told that the "dogs were barking in the street" about the myriad tax scams in operation.

There was general laughter when he claimed that he had great respect for dogs because some were his customers.

His family operates the largest pet-food manufacturing business in Ireland.

Joking aside, it is no longer funny. In the midst of the doleful news pages and amid the angry news bites, it was something of a welcome diversion to hark back to reminiscences of the papal visit when John Paul II came to Ireland for the first and only time.

It was a little akin to the memories of older Irish people who recollected with glee the Eucharistic Congress year of 1932 when millions of Irish, many returned emigrants, descended on the island to participate in the religious version of a Bacchanalian festival.

I cannot recall any criticism of that stunning main event in Irish life.

Similarly, I don’t remember hearing many, or any, critics of the papal visit. Ireland seemed to have been a much more cheerful little island then, innocent as it was of the niceties of political correctness.

The social sores festered like ulcers beneath the surface, of course. There was mass poverty in the 1930s. There was absolute hypocrisy on the part of politicians, business leaders — and even the Catholic clergy as well during the 1970s.

Two of the prominent clerics who were cheerleaders during the papal visit turned out to have been involved in lengthy affairs. Both sired children. One was Bishop Eamon Casey. The other was the widely respected Fr. Michael Clery, otherwise known as the "Singing Priest," the son of a Clondalkin publican.

Scandals like that, particularly the revelations concerning child abuse, inflicted by priests and teaching brothers, have altered the Irish public’s perception of the Catholic church. It has led to a sea change in attitudes.

But most of those who remember the papal visit will remember a week of festivity, love and joy.

My own sentiments were mixed. When the pope visited the Phoenix Park, I was forced to leave the press tent to lie prone on the grass. I was in great pain, the result of a traffic accident. As it turned out, another journalistic colleague was also suffering from a similar neck injury at the same time. We walked side by side up the long avenue to the press conference hosted by the pope and various church prelates in the Dominican convent in Cabra.

The fact that we both wore large neck braces attracted quite a lot of alarmed reaction from the security guards.

I will never forget the special audience the pope had with the press that night. Neither will I forget the genuine enthusiasm with which he was greeted by the hardened press corps. Innocent times, indeed.

Now, apart from all of the various disclosures that litter the pages of the national press, Ireland has changed to such an extent that the first large sex shop has been opened in Dublin. Owned by the UK-based Ann Summers company, it is directly opposite the GPO on O’Connell Street.

The times, they are a-changing, in the jungle of the Celtic Tiger.

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