Mahon goes on and on and on...
This is a confession a Village columnist and national current affairs radio programme presenter and editor should probably not make, but I've lost interest in the Mahon Tribunal and I barely read or listen to any of the coverage these days.
So all I know about recent weeks is that Frank Dunlop has been dishing the dirt again, that Pat Rabbitte has been testy in his public cross-examination about money he returned once he thought better of accepting it. Mary Harney was brought to task over a small cheque that in no way bought her vote. Some Fianna Fáil non-entities have looked foolish over their excuses for taking money, and the much hyped internal investigation a few years ago was always seen to be a sham, but then what's new in that? So what? Who cares? What relevance has any of this to the issues that are of concern to today's voters?
This, although I was once in the thick of hunting for stories about planning corruption involving politicians. I was even the first witness to appear after James Gogarty at what was then the Flood Tribunal as lawyers sought to find out the source of a story I wrote in the Sunday Tribune in July 1997 naming Ray Burke as the recipient of a £30,000 bribe from Bovale. (This was the first time Burke was named publicly). I have written loads of stories about Burke, Dunlop, Liam Lawlor and others, and approved the publication of scores more. And now I simply couldn't give a damn.
Yes, public confidence in politics is important. Yes, politicians should not be corrupted by the receipt of cash. Yes, donors should not be able to purchase influence.
But what has eight years of hearings at the Tribunal achieved since its initial unmasking of Ray Burke's financial chicanery and those responsible for it? Burke may have received his just desserts, via the courts, but even the adverse findings of Justice Flood against those who dealt with him have not affected their wealth or influence a jot. The planning system may have been corrupted, and with dreadful consequences, but would it not have been more useful if the same time, effort and expenditure wasted on this Tribunal had been put into constructing a viable plan for the proper use of land in this country. That way the prices charged to householders and businesses for accommodation could have been reduced and the obscene profits taken – not earned – by some speculators moderated. Yet look how prices have raced ahead over the last eight years.
Instead, we have key witnesses dying and key subjects are dying without ever suffering adverse consequences for their actions, other than the doubtful inconvenience of appearances at the Tribunal and associated time and costs dealing with it. The rest of the cast are just getting on with it, albeit at great expense.
The damage to public confidence in politics was done a long time ago. Nobody is ever really punished, nothing ever changes. I doubt if a single vote was won or lost as a result of the recent evidence at Mahon. Why is this still going on?