Focus, Ireland, focus – 1990s not that important

Despite living in Ireland for 20 years, despite being Irish on both sides of my family, despite being married to an Irish woman and having Irish children and Irish in-laws and Irish friends, despite all that and more there are times when I'm completely dumbfounded by the Irish people. This is one of them.

Now first I should say that it may be that I'm misinterpreting the excessive focus of the Irish media and Irish Twitter users on the report of the Moriarty Tribunal. Yes, that again.

I hope I'm wrong and that the average Irish person is not really that exercised by the report's publication. I'd actually like to believe that for most people a bad result in Ireland's soccer game with Macedonia tomorrow night will actually cause them more distress. I hope that's how it is.

It's just that the radio and the Internet are still full of people fuming over the report, which is, after all, about a government tendering process that happened 15 years ago! And I haven't seen anything that says that the government got a bad deal. They wanted competition in the cellular phone market and they got it. Despite some of the more emotive claims, it bears no relationship to what happened at Enron.

Now maybe one of the losing consortia would have done a better job than eventual winners ESAT, but maybe not. What I remember of that time was how surprised I was at the speed with which the market was transformed. We went from one stodgy, overpriced, under-performing state-owned mobile phone company to a fully competitive market in next to no time. I don't think anyone could argue that ESAT didn't do what it was supposed to do.

Of course there are aspects of the deal that stink, but there are a lot of smelly government tenders in every country. It's important that government tenders be as transparent and equitable as possible, but at least in this instance we got a decent company and a competitive marketplace.

I'm not saying that if it can be proven that a politician took money from a businessman that he shouldn't be prosecuted, but I gotta figure if that were possible it would have happened long before now. You have to bear in mind that Judge Moriarty's report represents a (2,000 page) summary of 14 years of public hearings and his conclusions.

Public hearings. As far as I can tell all the facts presented in this report were already in the public sphere, which is why I can't quite understand why people are getting so worked up about it now. (Probably because most of the irate Twitter users were only in grade school when these facts were revealed the first time.)

There are real problems facing this country right now. If corruption is one of them - and I suspect no more so than in America or other western democracies - then let's learn the lessons from the mobile phone license tender and move on. Anything more than that - such that might even cause our new government to lose focus - would be far worse than just burying the whole report. We're in a big economic-financial hole and beating ourselves and each other over something that happened in the mid 1990s is totally counterproductive.

{Photo: TD (MP) Michael Lowry, who was at the center of the Moriarty Tribunal's investigation.}

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