Haughey's secret bribes 'devalued Irish democracy'

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The secret acceptance by the former Irish prime minister Charles Haughey of millions of pounds from business figures "can only be said to have devalued the quality of a modern democracy," according to a report.

The report, compiled by a Dublin judge in the face of years of obstruction by the late prime minister, could hardly have been more critical of the most controversial Irish politician of the last century.

Painstakingly assembled by a tribunal over nine years, the report lays bare a breathtaking pattern of behaviour in which Mr Haughey accepted millions from big business during a lengthy career which saw him hold Ireland's most senior political office on several occasions.

It confirmed that Mr Haughey, who died in June, plundered thousands from a fund set up to finance a life-saving operation for Brian Lenihan, who for decades was his closest political associate and a personal friend.

In appearances before the tribunal, Mr Haughey made speeches in which he solemnly and indignantly denied any such actions.

On another occasion Mr Haughey was paid £50,000 by a Saudi sheikh for whom he obtained Irish passports. This was done in a clandestine manner, the tribunal reported.

Mr Haughey also collected very large amounts of cash from the business world even as he was exhorting voters to live within their means. His own lifestyle was lavish: he owned a large estate, an island and racecourses, and lived in the most regal fashion.

In its most damning criticism, the tribunal declared: "Apart from the almost invariably secretive nature of payments from senior members of the business community, their very incidence and scale, particularly during difficult economic times nationally, and when governments led by Mr Haughey were championing austerity, can only be said to have devalued the quality of a modern democracy."

All this deepens the image of Mr Haughey as an extraordinary figure who considered himself above the law and looked on regular large-scale bribery as no more than his due.

Mr Haughey's successor as prime minister, Bertie Ahern, is not criticised in the report. It had been known that Mr Ahern had signed blank cheques from a party account for Mr Haughey's use, but the tribunal concluded he "had no reason to believe that the account was operated otherwise than for a proper purpose."

It said Mr Haughey had owed the Allied Irish Bank more than £1m when he became prime minister in 1979. But, the bank "took no action whatsoever to curb Mr Haughey's mounting indebtedness, or to recover the debt. On the contrary, the bank exhibited a marked deference in its attitude to Mr Haughey."

Despite some attempts in recent years to argue that Mr Haughey was not as bad as he was painted, he is generally held in low regard in the Irish Republic.

The report held few new revelations, as the tribunal had already exposed most of the wrongdoings. But its detail and authority mean that any attempt to rehabilitate the Haughey name is doomed to failure.