Corruption and collusion in Ireland

Wednesday, 4 December, 2013

“The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 serves as a reminder that the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage societies around the world,” so says Transparency International in its latest report. Ireland finds itself in 21st position on the list, behind Uruguay but ahead of the Bahamas, but how accurately this reflects the situation in Uruguay or the Bahamas is difficult to judge as the difference between perceived corruption and actual sleaze is hard to define. The humiliation of those who suffer at the hands of dishonest bureaucrats cannot be rendered statistically; the loss of faith in governance is impossible to quantify.

In the case of Ireland, the latest blow to the credibility of its institutions came with recent revelations that charities in receipt of €1.5 billion in state funding were awarding their executives huge extra payments on top of their generous salaries. That those who make a living pleading for money to help the poor and the sick would turn out to be among the most avaricious and cosseted of fat cats is repulsive, but it neither surprises nor shocks. Much more shocking, however, are the findings of the Smithwick Tribunal, which were published yesterday. The tribunal found that Irish police leaked information to the IRA that led to two of Northern Ireland’s most senior police officers being murdered.

The tribunal was established in 2005 and spent six years examining intelligence and witness statements from police, undercover agents, IRA members and politicians during 133 days of public hearings. Three former members of An Garda Síochána, Ireland’s “guardians of the peace” — Owen Corrigan, Leo Colton and Finbarr Hickey — were granted legal representation at the tribunal but all forcefully denied allegations of collusion in the murders. The costs of the Smithwick Tribunal have been estimated at €15 million, with some €6 million going on general legal fees. But despite all the evidence and all the money, it was still unable to name those who enabled the killings. That’s shocking, but it’s not surprising.

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