By John Kelly
A midsummer’s day’s madness, call it that, if you wish. This is truly Dublin in the rare ‘oul times. The sights and sounds in the old city today could never have been envisioned less than a decade ago.
There are tourists from places that some of us mere natives have never even heard about. They tour the thronged streets of the inner city in vehicles ranging from horse-drawn carriages to converted landing crafts.
Yes, you got it, the very same type of landing craft that disgorged thousands of hapless American GI’s and British on fortified French beaches in World War II.
Little did the New Orleans inventor imagine just how their amphibian vehicles would ultimately end up.
The tourists are a lot happier than the troops that once occupied them. They get the statutory tour of the inner city, Dublin Castle, Christ Church cathedral and all that.
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They are then driven out to some inconceivable coastal spot where their craft is deposited in the shallow briny, to sink or swim as did many of their less fortunate ancestors in unspeakable horrors like Omaha Beach.
The tour buses are everywhere. The landing craft follow ever after. Invariably much of their cargo lands in the normally sedate cluster of Dublin Castle, once hated by republicans as the headquarters of colonial misrule.
Apart from the beautiful State Apartments, the Chester Beatty Library, which contains some of the world’s rarest manuscripts, and a magnificent little chapel, there are other, weirder aspects of modern Ireland in clear view at the castle.
Most are human. They generally seem to be harassed. Often they are accompanied by equally grim companions invariably clutching bulging briefcases and tightly packed filing boxes. They are ferried by people who are normally happier, encased in wigs and gowns.
The witnesses, as they are called at both the Flood and Moriarty Tribunals, range from multi-millionaires, possibly even billionaires, to humble clerks and secretaries who work, or worked, for the movers and shakers of modern Ireland.
It really is an unedifying spectacle, even sad. Most of the curious tourists would hardly afford them a second glance were it not for the fact that as they enter the tribunal portals they are normally greeted by a hustling bevy of photographers and TV cameramen.
Most would never have noticed the Irish taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, the leader of the Celtic Tiger, otherwise known as the "Teflon Taoiseach," except for the fact that he swept into the castle, encased in a gleaming Mercedes and surrounded by minders last Thursday.
They would hardly have suspected that they were observing a leader who was fighting for his political life.
The day after he arrived at Dublin Castle last week, he faced a no-confidence vote in Dail Eireann. That was serious enough, although, of course, there was never the slightest chance that the motion put by the Labor Party would ever succeed.
In Dublin Castle, he faced intensive and probing questioning from John Coughlan, senior counsel for the tribunal.
It was a day taut with excitement, a good day for a funeral. The sun shone. The temperature was high. The sky was blue. The assembled predatory snappers crowded around the door leading to the tribunal chamber in the upper yard.
But the man described by former taoiseach as the most devious and cunning of them all had fooled them again. He had arrived long before they had, at about 7:30 that morning. As they watched everything that crawled, he was huddled in a session with his lawyers.
If there was going to be a funeral, it was not going to be his.
That is how it turned out despite the grimmest forecasts of the more cynical media people. He may not have done himself particularly proud but he certainly put a much-needed finger in the shaky dike to stem the rising tide of public opinion that threatens his government’s survival.
He even raised smiles among the public attendance when, with a reference to the former taoiseach, Charles J. Haughey. He commented that he stopped getting shocked when sums his predecessor had been given amounted to more than £8.5 million.
And he got the only bellylaugh of the day when he told the tribunal that he had been given a £50,000 party donation in an envelope by the property developer who had built the International Finance Center.
"I hope it was a white envelope!" he quipped.
Although he has not yet appeared but is expected to do so shortly, it is the former taoiseach who is still very much at the center of the Moriarty Tribunal, accompanied by the ghost of his former financial advisor, the late Des Traynor.
Doubtlessly, he will tell the Moriarty Tribunal much the same story he gave to its predecessor, the McCracken Tribunal.
He will argue that he left all of his financial affairs to Traynor, a man with a fortunate penchant for depositing his client’s money in offshore tax-free havens like the Cayman Islands.
Haughey was too busy running "Ireland Inc." to be bothered about tawdry financial details.
But he was remarkably free and easy about the use of cash donated to the party. Substantial amounts seem to have been credited to his own myriad accounts. It is not merely the £8.5 million gleaned over a 15-year period. More and more envelopes, bank drafts and checks are exposed almost daily at this truly astounding and alarming tribunal.
Not alone is Haughey under investigation by the tribunal and the revenue people, he is also under the scrutiny of his own party.
Fianna Fail wants to hear the answers to a lot of questions about money intended for the party coffers that went missing while he was taoiseach.
For Haughey, as he said himself, Ireland is a "great little country."
The tourists who cavort around the city certainly seem to think so.
But the natives, those who have to share the zoo with the Celtic Tiger all year round, are no longer so sure.