Share, , Google Plus, Pinterest,


Review: Faith in Politics by John Bruton

In which the former Taoiseach, perhaps explicably, fails to turn up for interview

John Bruton (Taoiseach 1994-7, Minister for Finance 1981-2, 1986-7) has a book out. His publisher, Currach Press, suggested journalists might like to interview the lively former Taoiseach. I signed up and an appointment was arranged. The morning of our interview the man from Currach texted to say Bruton was concerned it should be primarily about the book and then half an hour later to say there was bad news, Bruton would not do it and he would not say why. I said I’d do it by email and was mostly interested in the book. Currach said they would get back to him. But I heard no more. Rude.

Maybe he was worried I’d ask him about Cherrywood. In 2006 Bruton told the Mahon (Planning) Tribunal that a donation of £2,500 to him as party leader was received from Monarch Properties in November 1992, during the general election campaign.

At that time I was campaigning against a make-or-break rezoning scheme being pursued by Monarch for 234 acres in Cherrywood, Co Dublin. Most Fine Gael County Councillors had not supported the rezoning in 1992 but they would vote for it in 1993: in addition to Bruton, nine out of the 12 FG Councillors who would talk to their party’s internal Inquiry in 2000 admitted receiving money from Monarch or Frank Dunlop (or both) in the 1991-1993 period when I was concerned with the Cherrywood vote.

Monarch’s boss, Phil Monahan, had told me he was paying Councillors for rezonings and that many of the Fine Gaelers would vote against it in 1992 but in favour (when it really counted) in 1993.

Monarch was duly found by the tribunal to have obtained the rezoning corruptly. During the 1997 general election campaign, the party received a further cheque for £3,800 from Monarch Properties.

Later Bruton said he had not tried to “whip” Fine Gael Councillors on 78-member Dublin County Council though he had pressured his 19 party councillors to act coherently when he met them in September 1993: Councillor Mary Muldoon told him that acting coherently would require the minority of non-rezoners moving to back the majority of rezoners.

The Council rezoned the Monarch lands shortly afterwards, in November 1993. According to leaflets we produced at the time FG voted 7:7 on the up-zoning in 1992. By 1993 their vote was 12:5 in favour. Why did so many change their minds? The torpid tribunal never asked.

Frank Dunlop informed the planning tribunal that he had told Bruton about demands for a £250,000 bribe made to him by a Fine Gael councillor, Tom Hand, to rezone the Quarryvale development. Dunlop testified that Bruton replied, “There are no angels in the world or in Fine Gael”. Bruton vehemently denied this but, following further inculpatory evidence at the Tribunal, returned and conceded that “it gradually came back to me”, that Dunlop, “did say to me something about a councillor looking for money”. He acknowledged that he did not investigate the matter because he had found the story told to him by Dunlop “exceptionally hard to believe”.

Anyway the book: Faith and Politics: I couldn’t really see the connection.

Bruton is is an intellectual by Irish political standards but he’s wrong to endorse GK Chesterton’s illogical comment that “When a man stops believing in God he doesn’t believe in nothing, he believes in anything”.

It is good to see an assiduous Christian Democrat recognise that freedom is no alternative to ethics, as it says nothing about how we should treat one another.

He’s right the Rising probably held back a 32-County consensual Republic, and that support for “our gallant [Axis] Allies in Europe” weakened our case for independence, at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

He’s right that the obligation on Northern MLAs to declare themselves Nationalist or Unionist is now holding back a new politics that transcends history.

He’s wrong to even contemplate that we can burn all the fossil fuels left in the world. I hadn’t realised how consistently the EU had emphasised the need for economic and monetary union and (as far back as the 1971 Werner report) that it would involve EU involvement in domestic economic policy. It’s interesting that a man of Bruton’s experience considers a third party in coalition can mitigate tensions.

Sometimes he is demonstrably illogical as where he claims that 30 minutes daily spent on religion in schools has not reduced Irish educational attainment because we have been doing it for generations and the reductions are only recent; but then claims that teaching Irish, which we have also been doing for generations, has reduced educational attainment.

Some of his articles seem hastily put together, like the ill-thought- through views on ‘waste’ and the half-baked views on Ireland’s “strengths and weaknesses”.

And more generally it’s unwise for an ex-Taoiseach to preach the need for Irish people to do more with less when he has a public-sector pension of €141,849 and, perhaps because he’s getting a six-figure salary as president of the IFSC, to obtusely advocate reining in regulation of the banks.

Michael Smith