A barrister yesterday explained to me the the Tribunal of Inquiry Into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, formerly known as the Flood Tribunal and now known as the Mahon Tribunal. Established by a resolution of Dáil Éireann in 1997, he felt it might be seen as an extension of the work of the Dáil.
Having arrived in 1999, when the Tribunal was already part way through its story, there have been frequent moments when its purpose and direction seemed to me to be very unclear. Many people seem to imagine it is a law court and that anyone who is called before it and revealed as having engaged in wrongdoing will somehow be convicted. There have even been allegations by various groups that some people were “criminals” because of revelations at the tribunals.
Yet, if it was established by a resolution of politicians, presumably any findings published by the Tribunal will also be subject to the scrutiny, debate and votes of politicians, which makes you wonder if there is any point. A government with a very secure majority is not going to pass any resolution that is critical of any figure within that government.
None of the material considered by the Tribunal would presumably be admissible now as evidence in a law case; anyone accused would simply claim that the airing of allegations at a public tribunal had prejudiced any chance of a fair trial. The fact that the Tribunal is not a court of law means that it, presumably, cannot even be seen as having the authority to establish the “truth”.
So if there is no prospect of political resolutions arising from the tribunal and no prospect of any prosecutions, where is it going?
The Opposition seem to approach it as a means of trying to create tide of pressure to unseat the Taoiseach, but even that is uncertain. There was no evidence at last year’s general election that the great accumulation of stories from the Tribunal had any significant impact upon the way people voted.
Each day costs Joe Public tens of thousands, there doesn’t seem to have been much return on our investment. Nothing has been proven, nothing has been resolved, nothing has changed.