Ireland: Coalition government edges towards collapse

Tawdry affair exposes government divorced from of people" – says Joe Higgins, Socialist MP



The Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), Bertie Ahern, went to the Dáil (Irish parliament) on 3 October under huge pressure to explain the circumstances of "loans" and "gifts" he got from businessmen when he was a government minister in the 1990s. The scandal dominated Irish politics over the last two weeks and lead to speculation that the government could fall.

Joe Higgins, Socialist Party TD (MP) spoke during the Dáil debate, condemning "the sleaze, cronyism, patronage and corruption that pervaded politics in the 1980s and 1990s". Joe also condemned ministers from the coalition government, from Fianna Fáil (FF) and the Progressive Democrats (PD), who defend Bertie Ahern, to stay in power, and their parties’ links with big business.

Since the 3 September Dáil debate, pressure has renewed on Ahern. New media reports said a businessman, Michael Wall, who sold Ahern his Dublin home in 1997, was present at an October 1994 fund-raising function in Manchester, England, when Ahern received £8,000 (sterling) from businessmen. Ahern confirmed Michael Wall did sell him his Dublin home in 1997 but claimed Wall did not donate him any money. Ahern claims he paid the "full market rate" for the house, but refused to say how much that was. The Irish media speculate about "a breakdown in trust" between Ahern and his deputy, Michael McDowell, raising again the possibility of the coalition government rapidly descending into deeper crisis, divisions and even its collapse.

Below, we publish Joe’s Dáil Éireann intervention on 3 September.


Coalition government edges towards collapse

Dáil Éireann, 3rd October 2006

Joe Higgins (Socialist Party)

: We now know that Fianna Fáil Ministers see nothing wrong with a Minister for Finance taking large amounts of money for personal use from business interests as long, they say, as there is no proof that any specific favours were done. Thereby, they defend not only the major conflict of interest involving the Taoiseach when he accepted €60,000 from wealthy individuals, but they also defend the sleaze, cronyism, patronage and corruption that pervaded politics in the 1980s and 1990s. Not one person was caught in the middle of that who did not come up with the same catch-cry: "We did no favours and we did nothing wrong". How could Fianna Fáil Ministers think there was anything wrong when the Fianna Fáil Party is massively financed by big business? Big business financing individual leaders on the one hand, or the party on the other, is a continuous process.

There is a tendency to isolate this controversy of moneys to the Taoiseach but it cannot be boxed off from the Taoiseach’s relationship with big business interests, Fianna Fáil’s relationship with big business interests, and the PD’s relationship with big business interests – they accept massive funds from those sources as well. It was the Taoiseach’s associate who helped him with his personal donations; who, in the 1990s, sat in a plush Dublin hotel and took in millions from speculators, developers, multinational corporations, oil companies and any kind of moneybags that darkened the door of his plush suite. Every ordinary person knows that business does this to influence Government policies, and that it succeeds. Ordinary people are the victims of this. Look at the strife, struggle and stress that young people must endure to secure the basic right of a roof over their heads because the Fianna Fáil-backing speculators have put the price of a home out of their reach. The Government sat and let them do it for ten years.

Brian Lenihan (Fianna Fáil)

: What about the houses built in the Deputy’s constituency?

J. Higgins:

Tens of thousands were heartlessly priced out of the market by the speculators who financed the parties opposite. Tens of thousands are terrified of the mortgage increases – perhaps up to €200 a month – they fear are now due. That amounts to €2,400 a year, which will virtually impoverish them but it is cigar money to the wealthy people who finance the Taoiseach. Most shamefully, look at how Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats were obliging the Shell Oil Corporation this morning, manhandling the decent people of Erris, so that Shell, the most notorious polluter and profiteer virtually on the globe, can get the gas they have given it for nothing out of the sea. This process started with the then Minister, Mr. Ray Burke, in 1997 and continued in 1992 under the Minister for Finance, now Taoiseach, when they gave fabulous natural resources to these companies for absolutely nothing in secret deals. How much did Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats get from the oil companies?

How nauseating, in view of all this, to see Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, reduce this whole controversy, this nexus of patronage and sleaze, to a cynical game of scrabble, of bending and twisting words so that both parties can walk out claiming to be vindicated. Taking large amounts of money from business, as the Taoiseach has said today, was an error and a misjudgment not because it was wrong, not because there was a massive conflict of interest, but because it came out into the open and caused grief and consternation to the Taoiseach and his friends. The Tánaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats sits beside him and applauds that particular statement.

What the Tánaiste is doing today is propping up an unreconstructed Fianna Fáil Party, still defending sleaze after ten years of investigation. Was it for this that the Tánaiste flew to the tops of the lamp posts all over Dublin to tell us we needed him in Government to straighten out the Fianna Fáil chancers? That event has now been exposed for the hollow stunt that it was.

An Ceann Comhairle

[Speaker]: The Deputy’s time has concluded.

J. Higgins:

He would not dare repeat it at the next election.

A Deputy

: He would.

J. Higgins:

He might try, but at least nobody will believe him this time. The lamp posts will be left to the poodles of Ranelagh to do at the base what the Tánaiste is doing today to the alleged standards he defended when he climbed up his ladder.

This tawdry affair exposes a Government utterly divorced from the reality of life of ordinary people,—–

An Ceann Comhairle:

The Deputy will have another opportunity at Leaders’ Questions.

J. Higgins:

—–light years removed from the struggle of ordinary working people to spread their wages over the mortgage, child care, transport and the other problems. The Taoiseach should go today not just for his grubby taking of funds from business interests, but also because his being beholden to business generally has created a society—–

An Ceann Comhairle:

The Deputy has a further opportunity on Leaders’ Questions.

J. Higgins:

—–that rewards the powerful at enormous cost to ordinary people so let us have the general election now. There are further questions but I will delay them until Leaders’ Questions. There are many detailed questions that the Taoiseach must still answer today.

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October 2006