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'Politics is the art of illusion' - Frank Dunlop in 2004

The former government advisor has been silent this week but his 2004 book ‘Yes, Taoiseach’ revealed much about him and his thoughts on other key figures in the Mahon Tribunal’s final report.

Frank Dunlop in 2007
Frank Dunlop in 2007
Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

IN THE AFTERMATH of the findings of the Mahon Tribunal we have so far heard from Bertie Ahern and Pádraig Flynn but not yet from one of the other main protagonists, Frank Dunlop.

The former broadcaster, government advisor and Fianna Fáil press secretary was the Tribunal’s longest witness  and was described in the final report this week as “problematic”. He was found to have had hundreds of thousands of pounds to disperse to councillors during the 90s.

In April 2000, he disclosed payments to councillors during the 1990s in what was a devastating day of testimony that would be crucial not only to the inquiry but would lead to him being charged and later jailed for corruption.

Released from prison in July 2010 after just over a year, he has maintained a relatively low profile since then. He obtained a law degree in 2007 and is currently working on a thesis on euthanasia as part of his PhD studies at Trinity College Dublin, RTÉ reports.

In 2004, he wrote a best-selling book, Yes, Taoiseach: Irish Politics from Behind Closed Doors, in which he revealed much about the years of the Haughey governments but not a lot about the issues which arose at the Tribunal, most likely because of the legal implications.

Dunlop wrote about how Fianna Fáil raised money, noting that in the 60s the Taca – Irish for ‘support’ – system was established. He wrote (page 19) that:

[It] was the forerunner of many subsequent inventive schemes that allowed business people to buy their way into the decision-making process, to gain access and to put their case forcefully in circumstances where others, who had not contributed, were denied an audience.

When he met the future Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who was Chief Whip in 1982, he wrote (page 266) of him:

I found him very personable, intensely interested in what he was doing and totally committed to the smooth running of his own constituency…

… he is undoubtedly the most gifted political operator of his or any other generation.

Of the Minister for Environment at the time Pádraig Flynn he wrote (page 315) that his “brain would have fitted neatly into the tip of Dessie’s little finger” referring to former Progressive Democrats leader and government minister Dessie O’Malley.

Former Fianna Fáil TD Liam Lawlor, now deceased, was noted in the book for having been shunned twice for ministerial positions by both Charlie Haughey and Albert Reynolds.

Dunlop wrote (page 319) that Haughey once described Lawlor as “an Exocet missile without a guidance system”.

In the book’s epilogue, Dunlop wrote (page 325) about his view on politics and displayed a considerable degree of scepticism about the extent of their power and influence:

I learnt that politics is the art of illusion and the art of persuasion…

… In reality, the force that drives politicians is more primal than principled. It is about getting into office, staying in office and hanging on to power, or what the political word regards as power.

On page 327 he continued:

The truth is politicians have little or no power worth speaking of…

…Politicians are akin to non-executive directions of companies; they provide colour but rarely much substance.

Finally, in the closing paragraphs he – to no great surprise – nominated Haughey as the best politician he ever worked with and on politics he concluded (page 335):

In short, it is a mirror of society as a whole, and the truth is that, as the disaffected and disillusioned would have it, we get the politicians we deserve.

Read: 13 things we learned from Mahon’s final report

Read: Frank Dunlop: A ‘problematic witness’ with a war chest

Read: FBI called to analyse Frank Dunlop’s ‘redacted’ diaries

Read: TheJournal.ie‘s Mahon coverage in full >

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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