Finnegan's Take

Better late than never: honour has been restored at the IIEA, eventually

The Institute of International and European Affairs – a Dublin-based pro-EU think tank with a record of attracting big hitters to address its high-profile events – has quietly erased two names from its Comité d’Honneur.

Bertie Ahern and Padraig Flynn were removed from the list of the great and the good which includes Mary Robinson, Peter Sutherland, Pat Cox, Brian Cowen, Charlie McCreevy and – a new addition – Enda Kenny.

The move came in the wake of the publication of the Mahon Report into planning corruption which found that Mr Flynn (a former Irish Justice Minister and European Commissioner) had received a corrupt payment of £50,000 Irish pounds in 1989. Back then, £50k would buy you a fine house in Dublin or – in this case – a farm in Mayo for Flynn’s wife.

Ahern, who served as Ireland’s Taoiseach (Prime Minister) from 1997 to 2008, was humiliated by the Mahon Report, although the judge did not find hard evidence of corrupt payments. The report says that Ahern gave “untrue evidence” and that he “failed to truthfully account for IR£165,214.25” which passed through his accounts.

IIEA did the right thing the wrong way

When the Mahon report was published in March I sent questions to the IIEA publically via Twitter asking if the would be removing Ahern and Flynn from their Comité d’Honneur in the wake of the Mahon findings. Even when the two disgraced politicians were kicked out of their own party, there was no word from the IIEA.

Then, without any publicity, the names of Ahern and Flynn disappeared from the IIEA website. I asked the IIEA how this decision came about, giving them ample time to reply, but no answer to those questions was received. (I was informed, 10 days after my emailed query, that Michael D. Higgins, the newly-installed Irish President, would be the organisation’s new patron.)

It’s odd. The IIEA is an esteemed organisation and has done the right thing – so why the silence?

This week, as EU leaders gather in Brussels, the IIEA is hosting an event in Dublin to discuss ways out of the crisis. Speakers include Patrick Honohan (ECB board member and governor of the Irish Central Bank), Alain Lamassoure MEP (Chair of the European Parliament’s budget committee), John Bruton (former Taoiseach and EU Ambassador to the US), Donal Donovan (former Deputy Director of the IMF), Josef Janning (Director of Studies at the European Policy Centre) and Pat Cox (former President of the European Parliament).

How did such a well-connected organisation manage to react so slowly to the Mahon Report and why did it feel it necessary to preserve the honour of two politicians who had, by their own actions, squandered whatever respect they once commanded? Why spare them the humiliation of a public statement condemning their actions and stripping them of this honorary role?

Perhaps it is the very fact of the IIEA’s connectedness that saw Ahern and Mahon given such a gentle boot. At a time when the public may be tempted to think that the elite is living by a separate code and protecting its life-members from hard landings, this was an opportunity missed.



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