White collars and dirty hands

By Red Hugh

A friend of mine, an accountant, a man with time on his hands obviously, sat down one day and based on scrutiny of the Payments To Politicians Inquiry Report worked out Charlie Haughey had taken corrupt payments to the tune of 41 times his annual salary as a politician.

He rang me to inform me of this and then asked how come no journalists or members of the Gardai ever asked how did a man on a good but not brilliant salary acquire a Gandon mansion, a private island, a yacht, a stable full of valuable horses etc etc.?

These were reasonable observations but the accusatory tone annoyed me so I replied last time I checked my names was not Sherlock Holmes…..

Every so often I run into a lady, an ardent Fianna Failer, who still sees nothing wrong with what Charlie did, her explanation being ‘it takes a bit of a rogue to run a country’.

If you follow her logic we should be on the look out for Al Capone when seeking our next Taoiseach.

On Monday night, RTE’s Prime Time did an excellent documentary on the standards, or lack of them, in our current crop of councillors.

Monaghan councillor, Hugh McElvaney, was, for me, the star of the show with his gold tooth, good watch, gold bracelet and four gold rings who suggested to the undercover reporter that he liked conversations where the word sterling featured prominently.

He has since claimed he knew it was a set up and that he played along. Yeah right….

But you know I sometimes wonder if we Irish are lacking something when it comes to condemnation of this kind of thing.

We have this sneaking regard for the ‘likeable rogue’ and can always find a way to forgive them.

It is almost if it’s part of the national psyche, that we like to see someone pulling a stroke and getting away with it.

There is, of course, a downside to all this, a price to be paid. And this can be seen at both a micro and a macro level.

For instance, I know a young fella who had to emigrate after his business – he was a self employed electrician – went bust.

He told me with more than a hint of bitterness of public contracts for school and hospital work, employment that he could have done with always going to the same people.

And it was being done barefacedly despite it being by public tender.

It was totally corrupt but how could be prove what was going on?

He’s far from friends and family now, last I heard working in Wellington, New Zealand.

And then, and the macro level, we have white collar crime where corporations are getting away with paying next to no tax, where the same select group of business folk seem to always be on the inside track when it comes to great deals and where no one is ever held accountable when the brown stuff hits the fan.

The Americans don’t put up with this sort of crap in business of public life.

It’s something we could learn from them.

The financial crook, Bernie Madoff,  will be getting out of jail in time for his 225th birthday celebrations, the chief financial officer of Enron spent quite a while getting a world view from the perspective of prison bars, while the biggest accountancy firm in the world at the time, Arthur Andersen, was closed down within a week after it was indicted for false accounting in regard to Enron.

It’s time we got real about white collar crime too.

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