For a long time I was a fan of the Tribunals. I was in the camp which claims that, though costly, these fora are purging our democracy of the vile blight of corruption. But as the Mahon Tribunal gears up to celebrate its 10th anniversary on 7th November, the twin burden of fatigue and disillusionment has gotten the better of me.
First it was beef. Goodman. Burke. O'Malley. Reynolds. Export Credit Insurance. Tax payers money effectively flowing into Goodman's Pockets. Then it was planning. Then it was communications. Later it was the Gardaí. Then it was planning again. McCracken, Mahon, Barr, Moriarty. Dunne, Haughey. Remember all that?
And it went on and on and on. Meanwhile the lawyers laughed their way in and out of Dublin Castle daily, heaping one fortune upon the next. Thousands per day, even when they aren't around to do anything. And one Tribunal spawned another like some horrid bacteria. And still the Lawyers came, and spoke in stern tones, and laughed their way to even more extraordinary wealth than before.
The cost of these inane circuses is clear enough, it is huge. But the benefits amount to little or nothing. The political class, wounded for a while, has recovered its utter contempt for accountability and transparency. The initially reasonable Freedom of Information Act was gutted once confidence returned. Party funding went on the agenda then quietly slipped away. And the likes of Flynn and Lowry powered home to massive majorities. Bertie and his FF cronies have neither an ounce of humility between them nor a shred of integrity. And sadly, Tribunalled out, the public have given up and want nothing more of government than their taxes cut. So low was the public appetite for discourse around integrity that opposition parties looked away when the Taoiseach's money bags crashed out of the wardrobe a fornight before the general election. And now he's back dithering and forgetting and hesitating.
Even if Bertie Ahern did nothing wrong, and even if he was merely going along with the culture of the time, he could at least be expected to stand up and say, well, I did nothing wrong but I affirm my belief that integrity is central to high office and transparency is the lifeblood of democracy. As we move forward we will see to it that safeguards are put in place to prevent the kind of rot that has dogged our body politic in the past.
But the effectiveness of the Tribunals can be guaged by this: can you imagine those words being spoken by the man we have just elected as Taoiseach for the Third time? (yes I know we don't select Taoiseach but he was party leader).
In the final analysis, the real beneficiaries of the Tribunal were the lawmen, the media, and, more tragically corruption itself. For it will blossom now among a politcal class who knows that the Tribunals have defeated our embryonic attempts at pouring domestos into the political system. From here on, the scum can thrive.