By Mick Barry
The Dunne family own and control €1.78 billion making them one of the richest families in Ireland.
Frank Dunne is the 19th richest person in Ireland with €445 million. Margaret Heffernan is the 25th richest person with €389 million.
Exploitation of workers at home and abroad, union busting and political corruption have all played a part in the rise of the Dunne family empire.
It took a three year strike by Mandate shopworkers in the mid 1980s to force the company to take goods produced by slave labour in apartheid South Africa off their shelves. To this day Dunnes continue to stock Israeli goods produced in colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Workers’ rights – a shameful record
Closer to home Dunnes are leading the way with low hour contracts and anti-worker rosters – policies they refuse to even discuss with representatives of their workforce.
The company does not negotiate with trade unions and doesn’t usually show up at Labour Court or Labour Relations Commission hearings. In 2005 they sacked a worker, Joanne Delaney, for the crime of wearing a union badge.
Mandate’s Assistant General Secretary Gerry Light said recently of Dunnes boss Margaret Heffernan and her dictatorial style: “She’s not so much anti-union as anti-opposition.”
The refusal by Dunnes to entertain grievances is reflected in the fact that the company has been named as defendant in 448 cases in the High Court in the last 5 years.
“Thanks, big fella”
When Ben Dunne Jr was arrested in a Florida hotel in 1992 not only did it open up a window on his lifestyle, which included cocaine and buying sex, but kick-started a battle with his siblings for control of the Dunnes empire which spilled secrets on political corruption and resulted in a tribunal of investigation.
This tribunal revealed that Ben Dunne had made more than 1.3 million pounds in secret payments to soon-to-be disgraced Fianna Fáil Taoiseach Charles Haughey.
What is remembered by the whole country is the exchange between Dunne and Haughey about a payment made on top of the 1.3 million pounds which later was recounted at the tribunal: “Here’s something for yourself” (Dunne), “Thanks, big fella” (Haughey).
What’s less well remembered is the fact that Haughey arranged meetings for Dunne and his tax advisor with the then Chairman of the Revenue Commissioners Seamus Parcéir to discuss the Dunne family trust tax assessment.
Cash for favours
The assessment was revised downward under Mr Parcéir’s supervision from 39 million pounds to 16 million pounds.
Ben Dunne was an equal opportunities donator to Ireland’s big business parties. As well as making donations to Fianna Fáil’s Haughey he also gave money to Fine Gael’s Michael Lowry.
The rise of the Dunne family is sometimes retailed by supporters of capitalism as a rags to riches story, the story of Ben Dunne Sr who started a little shop in Cork in the 1940s to sell food and clothes to working class people and who built it up into an empire with stores in Ireland North and South, England, Scotland and Spain.
But the facts are in plain view and cannot be hidden. If the rise of the Dunnes is symbolic of the Irish capitalist class as a whole, it’s symbolic of a class that is rotten and doesn’t deserve to rule.