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Charles Haughey arrives at Dublin Castle for the Beef Tribunal. Photocall Ireland.

'Tribunals and commissions achieve nothing. They just shield the guilty from prosecution'

In Ireland, any objective observer can see that justice is dead, writes William Campbell.

OPPOSITION PARTIES HAVE called for the Disclosures Tribunal to be expanded. They are wrong.

They were wrong to get it established, and they are wrong to seek a widening of its remit.

In recent years, we’ve had the McCracken Tribunal, the Moriarty Tribunal, the Mahon Tribunal, the Lindsay Tribunal, the Barr Tribunal, the Morris Tribunal, and the Smithwick Tribunal, and that’s just the tribunals.

There was also the Farrelly Commission, the Banking Sector Commission, the Fennelly Commission, the MacLochlainn Commission, the Bailieboro Garda District investigation, the Mother and Baby Homes Commission, the IBRC Commission and others.

If inquiries solved anything, we’d be well sorted

Consider this: “the gardaí are in a state of disarray, with low morale, poor discipline, lack of oversight, and a culture of silence.” It could have been written last week, but that was how Village magazine summarised the report of the Morris Tribunal, in 2005.

Justice Charleton could save a lot of time and effort by doing Ctrl C, Ctrl V on its findings.

The State already has a body to investigate crime – An Garda Síochána. One of the excuses they give for not doing their job is that they don’t want to interfere with the “work of the tribunal”, as though the judge was that mummified Buddhist monk whose followers insist is just deep in meditation.

In 1975 Cardinal Seán Brady, then a 36-year-old priest, took statements from two young victims of the notorious rapist Brendan Smyth.

When this came to light following the 2010 Murphy report, Brady claimed that he “understood” that some other priest would report the rapes to the gardaí, but never got curious about why weeks, months and years later, there was no report of Smyth being arrested.

The UK’s Chris Huhne

Compare that to the case of UK cabinet minister Chris Huhne. He dodged penalty points when his wife agreed to report that she, not he, was driving when their car was clocked speeding. When uncovered, Huhne and his wife were convicted of perverting the course of justice, forcing his resignation.

He served two months of an eight-month jail sentence, and was subject to a curfew, enforced by electronic tagging, for the remainder.

He went from the cabinet table to HMP Wandsworth, for fiddling penalty points. In Ireland, section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act, 1999 says:

a person [who] harms or threatens, menaces or in any other way intimidates or puts in fear another person who is … a witness or potential witness … for an offence … with the intention thereby of causing the investigation or the course of justice to be obstructed, perverted or interfered with shall be guilty of an offence.

Tribunals achieve nothing

The Flood Tribunal found as fact 15 years ago that Oliver Barry of Century Radio paid Ray Burke an “enormous bribe” for favouring his station. Burke was briefly jailed for filing false tax returns but neither he nor Barry were ever subject to a criminal investigation for bribery.

Tribunals and commissions are not insidious just because they achieve nothing. They actively shield the guilty from prosecution.

For the years that they continue, they mustn’t be disturbed by such frivolities as bringing criminals to justice; and when they report they give fodder to otherwise-unheard-of backbenchers wheeled out to focus on the lawyer’s fees, and distract from the findings, until public anger dissipates.

But in Ireland, any objective observer can see that, just like that mummified monk, justice is dead.

William Campbell is an author, entrepreneur and producer of the Irish current affairs podcast Here’s How.

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