The Mahon/Flood tribunal will end up costing over €300 million, and people are asking hard questions about it. They want to know how an inquiry could possibly cost that much. They want to know why the police couldn’t have done the same work for a fraction of the money. They want to know why the tribunal needed lawyers every day, for 15 years and so do I, but all of that is beside the point.
My question is why a lawyer, or anyone else, deserves to be paid €2,500 per day when working on a State-funded project. I have no doubt that some people will point out what seems obvious to them: we need the best and therefore we have to pay top money, but to that, I’d reply with one word: bollocks. We can get top-class investigative skills for a lot less than two and a half grand a day. I know many sharp, intelligent, highly-qualified men and women who would be happy to provide these services for a fraction of the cost. Remember, the tribunal is not a court of law and many professionals with experience of intensive inquiry, well able to ask hard questions, would consider a fee of €2,500 per day obscene, as I do myself.
Last year, I asked why tribunals of inquiry need to be run by lawyers, and I heard no convincing response. The point was very simple: since a tribunal is not a court of law, why should it be run by lawyers? Why not professionals from any sphere, as long as they possess the required abilities to conduct an investigation? After all, thinking is not a skill confined to the lawyer class, and investigations are carried out all the time by doctors, architects, engineers. Dentists, even. Rational thinking is not something that lawyers are born with.
Three people replied to that post. Only three.
However, to focus on the price of the tribunal is to miss the point. Yes, it cost too much, and the model needs to be redesigned. Yes, it took too long. Yes, it should have powers of prosecution. Yes, its findings should be available to the courts as evidence of wrongdoing, but none of that is the point.
Here’s the point. It took 15 years and €300 million to force Irish peoples’ heads out of the sand.
It took 15 years and €300 million to put on the record, unequivocally, what we already knew but which many of us refused to acknowledge, and while the cost was certainly inflated, this information was still something we needed to have whether we liked it or not.
An entire government cabinet conspired to frustrate the activities of this legally-constituted inquiry. Three or four or five government ministers were on the take. Prime ministers were blatantly demanding money from businessmen in return for favours. Elected members of parliament were actively shaking down property developers for millions. Senior politicians were corrupt. Local councillors were riddled with corruption. Corruption was, in the words of the tribunal, endemic and systemic, which means that our state is utterly, irredeemably crooked.
This is not a democracy. This is a kleptocracy.
You might think that €300 million is an exorbitant price, and in that I’d agree with you, but the information it provided cannot be valued in monetary terms. Therefore, while we should certainly find a new approach to organising such inquiries, we should still pay close attention to what they tell us, and the Mahon tribunal has told us something terrifying. Our democracy was bought and paid for by a bunch of crooked, unprincipled parish-pump bunco-artists, and what’s more, those chancers are only a small section of the crooks that have infested every stratum of our society.
€300 million is certainly a huge sum, but compared to the awareness it offers us, it’s nothing. Mahon tells us that our democracy has been subverted by crooks and cynics. What troubles me is the thought that the Irish people might be too blasé to understand that, just as they were stupid enough to re-elect the liar Bertie Ahern despite the evidence staring them in the face.
The planning corruption resulted in entire communities being destroyed and lives ruined. The Liffey Valley development only went ahead because corrupt politicians killed the Neilstown town centre, condemning a local community to a lifetime of living in a suburban wasteland. That happened because of bribery and it’s an observable, quantifiable fact.
Thieves wormed their way into public office for the sole purpose of taking bribes, and our people need to know this, whatever the cost.
Yes, the tribunals are too expensive. Yes, the lawyers ripped us off. Yes, the state was sucked dry, but the fact remains that our country has been raped by crooks in public office.
Forget the €300 million. This information is beyond value, as long as we act on it.