Political Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010, A Crooked Harp?

Posted by Elaine Byrne

Below is an extended chapter outline of my book, Political Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010, A Crooked Harp? published by Manchester University Press, launched last week. Outline of my book. Buy it on Amazon. The book is about to enter its second print run. Thank you for all your support to date.

I am very grateful to the Irish political science and historical academic community for the time they contributed to this project, particularly Michael Marsh, Kevin Whelan, Sean McGraw, Maurice Manning, Stuart Gilman, Michael Gallagher, David McCullagh, Eoin O’Dell, Raj Chari, Peter Murtagh, Ronan Fanning, Felix Larkin, Patrick Holden, Myles Dungan, Maura Adshead, Tom Lodge, Gary Murphy, Eunan O’Halpin and Jac Hayden. The work of Transparency International Ireland, especially John Devitt, on the National Integrity Study was hugely constructive.


1: Introduction
Towards a new definition
Towards a new definition – clientelism and brokerage
Towards a new definition – mediated corruption

2: Why so little corruption? 1900s-20s
Administrative legacies of British rule: conditions for Irish probity
Context: ministers and the £4.9:6 civil war restaurant bill
Unsung heroes: A civil service obsession with probity

3: Setting standards: 1930s-40s
The Wicklow gold inquiry 1935
The Great Southern Railways Tribunal 1943
The Ward Tribunal 1946
The Locke Tribunal 1947

4: At a crossroads? 1950s-70s
The 1963 Planning Act and the 1974 Kenny Report
The 1968 High Court bribery case and 1975 Tully Tribunal
Response by the National Coalition to corruption allegations

5: Golden circles: 1980s-90s
The Beef Tribunal 1991-94: context
The Beef Tribunal: The five political decisions
The Beef Tribunal: A re-evaluation

6: The Tribunal Period: 1990s-2000s
The McCracken Tribunal 1997 and Moriarty Tribunal 1997-2011
The Flood / Mahon Tribunal 1997-
The Tribunal process: a balance sheet

7. Political funding and the legislative response 1980s-2010
Political funding 1980s
Political funding 1990s-2000s

8. Political corruption in Ireland 1922-2010
Political corruption in the twentieth century
Political corruption: Ireland in the new century
Three corruption variables?


13 thoughts on “Political Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010, A Crooked Harp?

  1. Can’t comment having not read the book – and life is too short to spend time digging in to the entrails of what got Ireland into this mess; I would rather spend my money on solid analysis of steps to get Ireland out of it. This seems to be more displacement activity.

    Just an observation. A certain level of corruption is necessary in every democratic polity; it is the lubrication that makes the wheels go round. As a wise old Jesuit once put it: “It’s a wise society which knows how much evil to tolerate”. The danger arises when corruption begins to define the polity. And there are two Irelands – the outward-facing Ireland of the non-sheltered sectors and the inward-facing Ireland of the sheltered sectors. It’s not a contrast of purity and impurity; it’s just differences in degree, in exposure to international accountability and in systems of governance.

    While the academics seem to having a filed day digging in to the entrials – and goodl luck to them, we’re getting close to paralysis from analysis.

  2. Hi Paul, I think that’s the problem with Ireland, no?

    (a) The assumption that corruption is necessary and (b) making assumptions about something without having read it?

    I’d call that intellectual paralysis.

  3. I’ve bought the book – looking forward to reading it especially to see how it lays out why we tolerate such levels of cronyism- (which I think is maybe a better word as we’re not corrupt in the sense of Africa or Russia etc but large enough numbers of us are shockingly complacent about the consequences of abdicating our responsibility to participate in civil society.

    It’s always good to see how an issue progresses especially in social life – I always remember how surprised I was to learn at uni that there where more people evicted by catholic landholders during the famine than by Anglo-Irish ones and more of them went bankrupt trying to do right than did catholic ones and that afterwards it was the catholic neighbours of those who were evicted who rushed in to take the land before those evicted ever had a chance to gain it back. There must be social consequences down the decades from that sort of mentality.

    When I’ll find the time to read it is another matter!

  4. Oh dear. Our ‘public intellectuals’ seem to be such an extremely thin-skinned lot. I thought I made it clear I wasn’t commenting on the contents of the book as advertised (because I obviously couldn’t); I was merely making an observation on the comprehensive foucs on this issue at this point in the economic, financial and governance crisis afflicting Ireland. And it is so much safer now to document the catalogue of iniquity when the political faction that sanctioned much of it – and would have mercilessly suppressed any such effort previously – has been virtually annihilated as a serious political force. Yes, of course, it is important to understand why Ireland got in to this mess in the first place, but an excessive, navel-gazing, historical focus on this will absorb, distract and deflect most of the energy and intellectual effort required to lift Ireland out of this morass. Without meaningful structural economic reforms and equally meaningful reforms of the institutions and procedures of governance a decade of misery is inevitable.

    Of course, this is of little concern to those in Official Ireland who occupy the top-side cabins. If the ship founders they will be well above the water-line; those in steerage will have to shift for themselves.

    And it was extremely silly of me not to have anticipated the standard reaction of Official Ireland to nit-pick at any criticism it finds discomforting in an effort to dismiss it entirely. (I’m usually good at anticipating this as it has been used so often against me. It may be because this tactic is usually applied by politicians and officials; I tend to expect something better from our ‘public intellectuals’. Silly me.)

    I realise now I should have qualified ‘necessary’ with ‘inevitable’. We are dealing with the behaviour of human beings after all – and power, profits and prestige are always at stake in these matters. It is an on-going struggle to minimise the extent of inevitable corruption – and to minimise the incidence and severity of stupid policy decisions. This has to be a forward-looking exercise. And it has to tackle the extent to which various sectional economic interests have captured government. But that would shake Official ireland to its core. It’s far safer to chronicle the misdeeds of the past. I find it rich being accused of ‘intellectual paralysis’ by someone suffering from ‘moral paralysis’.

    • How can one look forward and outward without the knowledge in hindsight?
      Ref: Referendum May 31st 2012:
      Article 29.4…
      …..’No provision of this Constitution invalidates laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by the obligations of the state under the Treaty or prevents laws enacted, acts done or measures adopted by bodies competent under that Treaty from having the force of law in the state.
      Perhaps somebody can now explain to me why the above was a necessary inclusion in the Irish Constitution?
      What acts were done? All of them! Why?
      Please list all currently existing ‘Competent Bodies’ and their function?
      To continue to push forward without learning the lessons of the past can only result in further, deeper failures due to
      1 .A corrupt educational environment.
      The straw boys and girls on their way to visit the wizard professor in crystal city with a guaranteed ‘right’ to get their pierce of paper and ‘brains’.
      2. Corrupt grants to cronies in say the PACMAN industry
      3. Corrupt salaries to the cronies in the Quango industry with a view (glancing) to creating ‘jobs’
      4. Corrupt 12.5 % tax to the tax dodging Multinationals and the Irish gentry (the sons and daughters of sons and daughters of bloody gunmen, worse then the English ever were)
      5. No tax on ‘work’. Such utter nonsense!
      6. A corrupt ‘fairly shared” tax system whereby the poor pay the same as the wealthy who don’t want to share in the poverty.
      Nous avons en Ireland un raz de marée de la gestion tiède, tel que requis par Harvard.

      Read ‘Napoleon le Petit, III ‘MISE EN DEMEURE . Victor.Hugo

      If the addition to Article 29.4 ….is not a clumsy failed attempt to cover the corrupt Governmental practices of the last 10 years (Article 29.4.10, Ireland is a Sovereign Independent State and all domestic law derived from the unconstitutional application of 29.4.10 is corrupt (UN Charter against Corruption: signed 2011 ) then the lessons of the corrupt last 100 years have not been purged let alone learned). We cannot move forward and outward unless you mean make the straw men and women fat on grants and watch them, at the optimum moment, take their cash and ‘foutre le camp á le sud de la France’

  5. @ Paul

    I always enjoy reading your comments they are usually dead on!

    I think you could write several James Joyce type tomes on corruption in Ireland over the last 3 years alone. In all my life I have never witnessed such bare faced thefts going on under the guise of protecting or saving the economy. Just as Joyce wrote about one day in his life in Ulysses. Someone should write a book 24 hrs in the lives of the characters that sold us down the Swanee on September 29th 2008.

    @ Elaine Byrne I have not read the book yet, but will, when I have a chance to go to Hoggis Figgis. One thing that strikes me is that corruption is Ireland is becoming normalised we are totally punch drunk and on the ropes. One of the most demoralizing aspects is the way they tell the population we will go in and clean up politics and then 5 minutes after being elected they divy out the spoils, they go in and clean up! As was mentioned on the VB show promoting your book, we are near the top in the world when it comes to “legalised corruption”. God what a bitter reality. Could there be any greater indictment.

    I always said, we face two hega’monies’ the political one and the legal one. Anything will be made legal, as long as they are paid enough. Look no further than NAMA, IBRC and The Croke Park (benchmarking was not enough) deal, for examples of grand larceny.

    • I wonder how many people trapsed into mass in Armagh this morning and never said a word. I wonder how many people have ever got off their well padded rear ends to go on a march or protest or write an e-mail or letter or get involved instead of moaning and whinging about whatever issue affects them?

      The corruption can’t all be laid at the door of the political class -we elect them, we re-elected them and we are the ones who express no challenge when they are found wanting and instead defend them and re-elect them again.

      The pressure for change needs to come from within and simply voting out a government every five years is simply not good enough which means people’s lives in Ireland mustn’t be as bad as they say. IF they are then that begs the question of where the abject docility comes from – even in places like Russia and China many brave people stand up for themselves at the risk of their actual lives. So what’s our excuse for being so servile?

      • I think your getting close to the answer when you say it is not as bad as we make out. If you add up all those working in the PS the Semi- states, farmers, fishermen those working in multinationals, financial institutions and private businesses doing o.k. then add those numbers to those who are easily threatened the 460,000 on on welfare schemes plus those living on old age pensions and disability allowances you get a figure which I am guessing is most of the population. None of these are going to rock any boat. Many of them will complain, the more educated, articulate and economically savvy will always argue for whatever supports their next pay cheque. Only a hand full of people will even attempt to say what is right for the country but they are in a constant minority and will remain so as long as the debts can be piled high.

        Then I must reserve a few lines for the inarticulate and ill thought out ranting from Richard Boyd Barrett and his ilk who come across as are a bunch of flag waving, loose cannons, in my eyes. If they are not opposing some EU treaty they are supporting revolution across the globe. It is very hard to be taken seriously when you have these people self proclaiming to be leading the ‘revolt’.

        I do not support this treaty btw and will be voting against it. It is another royal fudge, a treaty on stability which will mean austerity for those unable to defend their rights with powerful insider trade unions and which the government wants to drive through at all costs as their only plan is to stay in power and try and borrow our way out of debt and out of recession. It has two chances. Slim and none. I don’t think anything will happen politically until the country goes bankrupt a second time and even a third time.

  6. “So what’s our excuse for being so servile?”

    If we knew the answer to that one we might be able to do something positive. I tried a few private, social-style experiments from time to time about some current controversy. Most folk got quite annoyed with me. They seemed to dislike being confronted. Most had a sentimental grasp of the situation. Long on rhetoric. Short on meaningful engagement. They would talk and argue till the cows came home, but action: no sireee. Over 70s Medical Cards excepted!

    I do not think its a inability to protest. More likely they do not know how to protest effectively. They think talk is sufficient. And, what would the outcome be anyway? An arrogant minister threatening to collapse the sky, or a faceless mandarin dismissing your protest out-of-hand.

    The current controversy over the ipi melanoma drug is a good case in point. I would not term it corruption, but it was a close call. One hell of a PR hurricane. Adrenaline powered sentimentality at its best. Science and statistics trashed. Morality (and Dr Byrne is a tad keen on moral behaviour) flushed away.

    • That corruption is practiced and will continue to be practiced is undeniable. To express an opinion that it, any amount of it, is acceptable is the product of a corrupted mind. Only one of many, attempting to justify the unjustifiable. The product of 92 years of inbred corruption and a ‘stock answer/stock statement’ society. A ‘goodfella’, lacking in anything close to ‘an optimum of logic/imagination’.
      Oh! what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

      • Oh! what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Lovely prose! I would have thought that he was simply stating the ‘bleedin’ obvious!

  7. Clearly not obvious Robert Brown. see: paulthunt says:
    May 2, 2012 at 7:43 am. and
    Eamonn J. Ryan says: June 4, 2012 at 12:34 am
    The people voted ‘yes’ on 31st. May to allow the government of the day to ignore the constitution at will and with retrospection . Who knew?. Who discussed the issue? Who noticed? Who will take note? Who gives a monkeys.

    Ref: Political Corruption in Ireland 1922-2010, A Crooked Harp?
    by Elaine Byrne
    Ref: ‘Napoleon le Petit, III ‘MISE EN DEMEURE . Victor.Hugo.

    Du passé faisons table rase
    Foule esclave, debout ! debout !
    Le monde va changer de base :
    Nous ne sommes rien, soyons tout !

    • The following is some alarming information regarding offshore tax havens from USA! Many will remember the Ansbacher affair & the handler of funds for a former Taoiseach. We see in the news today 24/7/2012 that the Garda & SFO are moving closer to uncover some juicy info. We wait in anticipation of interesting revelations and hopefully repatriation of the nations revenue to balance the books !

      “While $21 Trillion is Unaccounted For, We Fight
      It was reported on Sunday that over $21 Trillion USD is unaccounted for in offshore tax havens. Single payer health care, debt relief, education fully funded through post graduate level, and a federal public transportation program, all could be paid for if we recover these funds. It is not an impossible dream. So we fight. We ask you to start thinking about joining us on September 17th in the financial district of NYC where we will once again be inconvenient in the face of global capitalism and by our simple presence we will demand that a different world be imagined and implemented.

      We lit the spark in 2011, help us make 2012 the year in which we move from problem to solution. It is time to address the abusive form of capitalism under which we suffer and to walk in the streets until justice is served.”

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