By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — After decades of rumors about suspected widespread sleaze supposedly corrupting Irish business, politics and the public services, a frenzy of inquiries are now finally lifting the lid on Ireland’s golden circles and cozy cartels.
Exposing the strokes, graft, back-handers, bribes, shady planning deals and almost endemic tax evasion has itself become a multi-million industry with the two main sleaze tribunals and their expensive legal teams bedding down for lengthy inquiries.
Layers of alleged deception and lies are being forensically unraveled and watchdog bodies such as the revenue commissioners, the comptroller and auditor general, the g_rda fraud squad, the oireachtas public accounts committee and new political ethics bodies are all getting more teeth in a belated clean-up.
As scandal skeletons come toppling out of cupboards from media leaks or sleaze probe revelations with increasing frequency, the stability of the minority Fianna Fail-Progressive coalition is being severely tested.
The steady drip-feed of allegations is rocking the government as it deals with the faltering Northern Ireland peace process and crucial budget negotiations with Brussels.
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The main probes are the tribunals under High Court Judges Michael Moriarty and Feargus Flood which were both established in 1997. Moriarty is following on a previous tribunal under Judge Brian McCracken and is investigating payments to former Taoiseach Charles Haughey and former Transport Minister Michael Lowry.
It is also probing whether the revenue commissioners used their powers to recover taxes from either man.
The Flood tribunal was set up to probe allegations of planning corruption in North Dublin and two _30,000 payments to former Foreign Minister Ray Burke. It’s two “star” witnesses are James Gogarty, a retired property company executive, and a London-based developer Tom Gilmartin, a native of Sligo.
The Tribunal will be investigating allegations of payments to public servants and other politicians including claims of a _50,000 donation to Euro-Commissioner P_draig Flynn.
Tanaiste Mary Harney has also ordered a series of inquiries and has expressed serious concern about interim reports which indicated “there were people who obviously felt the laws were not for them” and paid “zero tax.”
Her probes include: