Ireland South: Joe Higgins MP hammers corruption

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party MP in Ireland) made the following speech in the Irish Parliament (Dail) pouring scorn on the attempt by the Irish government to cover-up big-business scandal in the country.

"The inspectors appointed to inquire into the affairs of Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited have thrown a remarkable light on the twilight world of a subspecies of humanity which wielded enormous power and influence in Irish business and politics. Previously, I called this species "Ansbacher Man". Ansbacher Man was brought into being in the 1970s. Like his creator, he had a complex, dual personality, one half of which was "Ansbacher Man – The Shadow," a shadowy persona who inhabited a secret world of offshore islands, coded bank deposits, fiddled taxes and secret loans. Leaving his plush boardroom or magnificent suburban mansion, he flitted in and out of the lobbies of top hotels, restaurants, clubs and pubs to rendezvous with his creator who handed him or took from him as the case may be bulky packages of tax evading cash or more discreet cheques or bank drafts. Ansbacher Man – The Shadow was as furtive as a thief. He was driven by greed and the inordinate desire for personal enrichment. He was a walking conspiracy to defraud the taxation system of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of pounds.

Meanwhile, his other half, "Ansbacher Man – The Public Persona," was generally basking in the warm glow of an approving establishment. Business colleagues, priests and political party leaders all deferred to him and his picture was in the business pages of The Irish Times every second day. He was on high-powered committees which laid down industrial policy for this country for years and decades to come. He was enthusiastic about pouring million of pounds of taxpayer’s money – PAYE taxpayers’ money – into subventions for industry, just as he was unenthusiastic about industry being obliged to return the compliment to the PAYE taxpayer.

In the 1980s he was forthright in calling on the unemployed and the crucified, compliant PAYE taxpayer alike to tighten their belts in the national interest. He regretted the relentless rise in unemployment and the stream of talented youth forced to emigrate. He rung his hands as hospital beds were closed by the hundred, if not the thousand, mentally ill people were sent in to communities which had not been prepared for them and the old and sick waited in pain for medical procedures that never materialised because the taxes were not there to pay for them – Ansbacher Man – The Shadow had already salted them away in the Caribbean islands, far from Blanchardstown, Clondalkin, Knocknaheeny and Fairhill. Between the two worlds of Ansbacher Man stood his creator. A cross between an octopus and Spiderman, Mr. Traynor’s tentacles reached into very many corners while his web encompassed very many people in business and politics at the very top of society.

Then disaster struck. Appropriately it began with one of his own standing at the top of a stairwell in a Florida hotel threatening to throw himself down. I am sure many of the unmasked Ansbacher account holders rue the fact that they were not present to shout "jump, Ben, jump, it will not hurt".

The McCracken report unmasked the secret world of "Ansbacher Man", revealing for all to see the corruption at the heart of crony capitalism, masquerading as a political and business establishment. The same establishment wants to say "that was then, this is now". The Tánaiste hinted at this in her speech. We are told that "Ansbacher Man" is as extinct as Neanderthal man or the Tuatha De Danann and that to believe otherwise is as foolish as to say that fairies inhabit the liosanna, ráthanna and ringforts they left behind.

The establishment is trying to make us believe that "Ansbacher Man" was an aberration, a branch of evolution that suddenly ended and has disappeared without trace, but that is not the case. "Ansbacher Man" as we came to know him is extinct, but his DNA lives on.

His genetic fingerprint can be found at the heart of major business conglomerates in this State. Cement Roadstone Holdings, which was established by the creator of "Ansbacher Man", Mr. Des Traynor, is one such conglomerate. It beggars belief that the inspector’s report did not consider CRH to have corporate knowledge and responsibility for the Ansbacher fraud, considering the extent of the involvement of its chairpersons, chief executives and the majority of its board. The offices of CRH were used as a headquarters for the scam. Four of its employees were engaged in the business, including one who kept accounts and another who was sent all over town to deliver Ansbacher booty to defrauders.

Mr. Traynor was not a peripheral figure in CRH. He was involved in the heart of the enterprise from as early as 1969, when he played a central role in the merger of Irish Cement and Roadstone. He played a key role in the creation of CRH as a major multinational corporation. His methods of hiding the Ansbacher fraud centred around the creation of highly secretive discretionary trusts, the purpose of which was to surround substantial amounts of money or assets with such layers of camouflage that it was impossible to determine their ownership.

Mr. Traynor was fiendishly clever in weaving this tangled web of deceit and disguise. Does anybody believe he did not employ similar methods when creating the giant CRH?

Only one and a half years have passed since the revelation that CRH secretly owned 11 operating companies which were not listed in its annual report. How many other concrete and quarrying companies, masquerading as independents, are secretly owned by CRH as a result of Mr. Traynor’s fiendishly secretive methods? If that is true, we are facing an appalling vista. The State is supervising a massive €50 billion programme under the national development plan.

A substantial amount of these funds will be used to pay for millions of tonnes of concrete necessary for roadways, bypasses, motorways, bridges and buildings. Local authorities and other public bodies are putting huge projects of this nature out to tender and several different suppliers of concrete materials are making offers in response. The appalling vista is that some of these companies may be linked and secretly owned by CRH, through a version of the secretive structures put in place by Mr. Traynor in Guinness & Mahon and in Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited. Are local authorities and public agencies being taken to the cleaners? Is taxpayers’ money being used as part of such a conspiracy?

If the Government is serious about tackling these matters, it will ensure that sufficient resources are provided immediately to the relevant agencies, whatever they might be, to investigate Mr. Traynor’s creation. If it does not act in that regard, its seriousness will be called into question and it will be held responsible for fraud that may be discovered down the line.

Capitalism is built on greed. Corruption is endemic in the capitalist system. I want to see that system replaced with a society that is truly democratic and free from corruption, where wealth is possessed by working people and where there is no incentive to be corrupt. That is the system of democratic socialism I favour.

We have to insist on immediate measures to root out the corruption that doubtless remains. What now for the Ansbacher clients? It was fascinating to dip into the interviews they had with the inspectors. One might be forgiven when reading such interviews for thinking that one had stumbled upon transcripts of proceedings in the offices of the Irish Association for Victim Support.

We are almost led to believe that Mr. Traynor had mugged these people and that they are nothing more than injured innocents. We are supposed to believe that his weapons of charm, reassurance and bonhomie were used to separate them from their money, which then somehow ended up in offshore accounts.

My party seeks the prosecution of all those engaged in the Ansbacher conspiracy to defraud. Their assets should be seized and applied to the public services that suffered. Although I do not dispute that prison sentences would be in order, a few years of community service at the coalface may be more appropriate so that those who engaged in fraud might, for the first time, encounter the society in which real people live. I ask the Tánaiste to address the matter of discretionary trusts, which I believe must be outlawed.

How can our legal code allow people to camouflage their assets through these secretive trusts, so that nobody knows who owns particular companies? It should be outlawed. Mar fhocal scoir, a Cheann Comhairle, córas caimiléireachta, córas coiriúil amach is amach a bhí i gcóras Ansbacher. Goideadh na milliúin ón gciste cánachagus, mar thoradh ar seo, ní raibh achmhainí ann chun an córas sláinte, mar shampla, a choiméad. Gearradh siar go géar ar an gcóras úd leis na gcéadta leapacha gearrtha amach as an gcóras. Caithfear deireadh a chur leis an gcóras Ansbacher agus leis an coiriúlacht seo agus caithfear iadsan a bhí freagrach as a phíonósú.

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July 2002