Belfast Telegraph

A twisted moral arrogance puts us in debt and danger

By Kevin Myers

As we witness yet another funeral from paramilitary violence, and as we steal yet more of our grandchildren's future to pay for our follies, it's surely reasonable to wonder how long this nonsense can go on.

Within a single generation, thousands of people died in a war that is still not quite over and which no-one can now explain. The Republic also lies in ruins, burdened with historically unprecedented levels of debts.

As the Dunnes' ad proclaims: “The difference is, we're Irish.” What does the smug exceptionalism behind ‘being Irish' actually mean?

Does it mean that we may violate the universally accepted rules of God and man and kill certain people whenever the mood so takes us?

Does it mean that our bank regulators can ignore the cardinal rules of finance? And when our banking system collapses, does it mean those regulators can walk off into the sunset with tax-free golden handshakes and inflation-proof pensions?

Consider the totality of all this: Ben Dunne of Dunnes Stores was a major subscriber to the Haughey personal slush-fund. As the Republic’s finance minister, Charles Haughey had previously used state assets to finance the formation of the Provisional IRA.

One of the earlier victims of the Provisionals' campaign was Constable Sean Hughes, a policeman shot through the head at his home in Belfast. Totally blind, quadriplegic, doubly incontinent and an epileptic for life, he nonetheless ‘survived'.

Rather similarly to Ronan Kerr, this GAA man had joined the newly-disarmed RUC, but in his case, at the promptings of the SDLP. Ten years after he was shot, a special GAA congress in 1981 unanimously endorsed the war for national liberation — the Provisional IRA campaign.

It was, of course, the same Ben Dunne who also provided illegal financial services to the Fine Gael politician Michael Lowry.

And it was Lowry who, as government minister, according to the €200m Moriarty Tribunal, also received payments from businessman Denis O'Brien at the time of the granting of a telephone licence.

Three senior counsel of this tribunal earned €23m in its first 12 years. This included an overpayment of €1m, following a clerical error, which awarded two of them €2,500-a-day, instead of the agreed €2,250.

This overpayment, however, did not prevent tribunal barristers from making numerous expenses claims that included a €3 charge for water, a €5 tip to a taxi driver, a €1.50 tip to room service and numerous other little sundries. Then there was a shared dinner, the claim for which was based, not on the usual itemised bill, but on an unitemised credit-card receipt for £147.88.

Now, I'm not saying that these barristers were in any sense breaking the law. However, surely, one purpose of the Moriarty Tribunal was to cleanse Irish life.

Who feels cleansed by the accidental extra fees of €250-per-day, totalling a million euros, which were then retained by the barristers? Who feels cleansed by the petty expenses claim for bottled water?

And so, as we watch the ruination of the Republic, we may reasonably ask: where in public life stands the hero of whom we can boast to the grandchildren who must pay the bills for our follies? Where is the selfless patriotism which is daily evident in Japan?

Irish society's crucial failing is the lack of an all-binding moral order. The greatest of all commandments, Thou Shalt Not Kill, is still only conditionally observed: our political parties enter passionate caveats for their predecessors' right to take the lives of their fellow countrymen.

In three weeks, the Republic will once again celebrate the violent events in which hundreds of Irish men, women and children were killed. Others have used — and still use — 1916 as their moral authoriser to take yet more life.

The evil murder of Ronan Kerr was not morally different from the shooting of Sean Hughes 40 years ago, or of the killing of Constable Patrick Murphy in Belfast 30 years before that, or of the murders of the unarmed Constables O'Brien and Lahiffe in Dublin in 1916. Those deeds were authorised by the autonomous moral orders that define so much of Irish life. So it's not very difficult for other autonomous moral orders to disregard the lesser commandments.

Long before Lowry, such autonomous moral orders enabled de Valera to trouser the millions raised in the US and Haughey, the financial progenitor of the Provisionals, to live as Taoiseach, tax-free, on the backs of Irish businesses.

“The difference is, we’re Irish,” declares the Dunnes Stores’ ad. Quite so.

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