In yesterday’s Dáil chamber, Sinn Fein deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald recited a whistleblower’s allegations of tax evasion by senior politicians, seven of whom whom she listed by name. The allegations regard Ireland’s “Ansbacher accounts” scandal from the 1970s-1990s, the country’s largest ever uncovered tax evasion scheme.
McDonald also said that a 2004 investigation into the matter was shut down by Mary Harney, leader of the former Progressive Democrats party, when she discovered Progressive Democrats founder Des O’Malley’s name on the list.
Ceann Comhairle (Dáil chair) Sean Barrett cut off and reprimanded McDonald for her abuse of Dáil privilege, telling her to review the rules of a democratic chamber, in which she is not permitted to name names of those who are defenseless and not present to contradict her allegations.
The Ansbacher scandal began in the early 1970s, when the late money manager Des Traynor used his position on the board of Guinness Mahon bank to create a clandestine bank called Ansbacher. He treated the bank as a subsidiary of offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands for tax evasion purposes, though it was secretly run in Guinness Mahon headquarters in Dublin.
Clients deposited tens of millions of pounds with Ansbacher, all of which was treated as if lodged in offshore accounts. Though exposed in the 1990s, Revenue Commissioners continue to hunt down those who profited from the accounts; so far investigations have yielded almost $140 million in unpaid tax and penalties from 142 people.
McDonald, who was speaking during Opposition Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil, echoed the allegations that former Taoiseach Charles Haughey, Ray MacSharry and Maire Geoghegan Quinn of Fianna Fail, former Fine Gael Finance Minister Richie Ryan, former Fianna Fail Justice Minister Gerry Collins, Progressive Democrats founder Des O’Malley and "S. Barrett" were among those guilty of having held offshore accounts through Ansbacher.
After audible uproar in the Dáil and a reprimanding from Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett for making allegations and naming names, the Comhairle added: “And I wish to state quite categorically, in case anybody is under any doubts when you say ‘S. Barrett,’ it does not apply to me.’’
McDonald said: “The whistleblower reports...absolute obstruction to his efforts to complete his investigation. He further reports that agencies of the state have failed to investigate all of these matters thoroughly, including tribunals of inquiry.
“On the 12th of November, Taoiseach, you directed me to the Public Accounts Committee…[as] the proper place to have these matters investigated. The Public Accounts Committee has been advised last night that we will not be permitted to investigate these matters. Neither issues around tax evasion, nor indeed allegations of political obstruction or even indeed corruption.”
In 2002, Former Progressive Democrats party leader Mary Harney, who was once a high-level investigator of the report, said: “I believe the public has a right to know what went on, and I believe that making the report available best serves the public interest. We should show leadership in ensuring that our society is a fair and just place in which to live and do business.”
However, McDonald alleged that Harney was the one to terminate the investigation in 2004 upon finding Des O’Malley’s name on the list.
Statements by former and current politicians named by McDonald have since been released. A statement by Maire Geoghegan Quinn reads: “I have never had an Ansbacher Account. Neither have I ever had an account with Guinness and Mahon Bank."
Part of a statement by Des O’Malley said: “This list, and allegations of tax evasion have been extensively investigated already by the Revenue Commissioners, the Gardai and the Moriarty Tribunal several years ago. Despite this it is being raised again.
“The reason for my being on that list is quite simply that I had a particular form of account with Guinness Mahon Bank.”
Ray MacSharry, Gerard Collins and Richie Ryans have all since denied involvement with the Ansbacher accounts as well.