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Dublin Report 1999 shaping up as Ireland’s Year of the Tribunal

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By John Kelly

A gun discarded on a toilet in Dublin Castle, an old man, obviously suffering from great infirmities, tortuously describing the complicated details of a pension he never obtained despite enormous loyalty to his company — these are the sights etched in the minds of Irish people in this, the year of the great tribunals.

So far, the only victim of the Flood Tribunal, which creaked into action last week, was the unfortunate detective who absentmindedly left his gun behind him after using a toilet. Others have been busted back into uniform for much less.

Yet, in some ways, an octogenarian, Jim Gogarty, can be called a victim as well. Certainly, he was clearly suffering greatly as he gave evidence to the effect that he handed one of two envelopes, each containing £40,000, to the powerful north Dublin Fianna Fail deputy and former Minister for Justice Ray Burke.

The cash, he contends, was from the company Joseph Murphy Structural Engineers, of which he was a director, to enlist Burke’s help in obtaining planning permission for rezoning land, thus trebling or even quadrupling its value.

The company selected Burke, who was also a powerful member of Dublin County Council, which regulates planning permission, because its officers believed he could get bipartisan support for the rezoning plan.

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There is little point in attempting to outline the more obtuse details of the wheeling and dealing involved. They are emerging as the tribunal proceeds. For the most complex of reasons — involving a conflict with his company over his pension entitlement — Gogarty has courageously chosen to testify before the tribunal. His recollections are clearly causing him great mental and physical torment.

Gogarty’s stand has already lifted the lid on a major source of corruption for some Irish politicians: local planning for land use, which is the investment fire that lines the Celtic Tiger’s belly.

Over the course of many years, Irish journalists have successfully investigated scores of such scandals only to have their stories binned by the threat of draconian Irish libel laws.

News, according to an old journalistic adage, is what some people don’t want other people to know. The more powerful the people, the more compelling the reasons to keep truth hidden. But in Dublin in the early weeks of 1999, many well-hidden political and financial secrets are being gradually bared to the public. It is not a pretty sight.

Legal maneuvers by lawyers determined to protect their clients may yet take some of the sheen off the Flood Tribunal. Even as it carried out its preliminary investigative work, it was subjected to viciously determined legal opposition. And, as it proceeds, it continues to be threatened with various High Court actions designed to impede its progress.

There is every reason to suspect that the tribunal team is correct to anticipate that Gogarty, the main witness, will be ambushed with new evidence to discredit his story. Still, the evidence yet to be heard will no doubt reveal some of the best-hidden secrets of some of the most powerful men in Ireland.

Hot on the heels of the Flood Tribunal will be the Moriarty Tribunal, which has already uncovered many unsavory details concerning none other than Charles J. Haughey, the former taoiseach, the most powerful politician in Ireland in the last 20 years.

The tribunal owes its origins not to Haughey but to Michael Lowry, the former Fine Gael minister, who benefited considerably from the largesse dispensed by department store tycoon Ben Dunne, a large, colorful figure who featured in a spectacular drugs binge in a Miami hotel a few years back. Then, he had to be overcome by police when it seemed that he was about to jump from a balcony. He subsequently was convicted for the possession of illegal drugs.

It rapidly emerged that Dunne had been generous to several politicians, most notably Haughey, who once thanked him for a quarter of a million pounds with the immortal words "Thanks, big fella!"

Between 1987 and 1991, the tribunal has already ascertained, Ben Dunne paid no less than £1.3 million into hidden Haughey bank accounts and to Celtic Helicopters, the company formed by Haughey’s son Ciaran. There is now a possibility that another million was laid at the disposal of Haughey’s now deceased former financial advisor, Des Traynor, who managed what is described as the "Ansbacher deposits," money paid to several of his clients, especially to Haughey, and hidden in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands.

The money was then reimbursed in smaller amounts through the Guinness and Mahon bank in Dublin. The tribunal has also established that after 1989, the Irish Intercontinental Bank handled the cash.

It is not only Dunne who dispensed such largesse. Another who presented the former taoiseach with large sums is the tycoon Dermot Desmond. He confessed in January of 1998 that he had given £500 to Haughey’s family and companies associated with him.

Another formerly wealthy property tycoon, Patrick Gallagher, who was jailed for fraud in Northern Ireland, also confessed last February that he had placed a £375,000 deposit on the Haughey estate only to lose it all when the Gallagher Group, based in the Cayman Islands, collapsed.

The details of the various deals would be amusing if not for the fact that they reveal a depth of casual corruption at the zenith of what Haughey called "Ireland Inc.," a corruption that we know now is mind boggling in its scope and implications.

For example, Dunne claims that he cannot remember if he paid £180,000 for the use of Celtic Helicopters. He has already revealed that he visited Haughey’s mansion in Kinsealy, near Malahide in north County Dublin, carrying a check for a huge amount in the rear pocket of his golfing pants. He did so because he had heard that the taoiseach was depressed by the state of his financial affairs.

This kind of Fantasy Ireland may become a thing of the past, thanks to the work of the tribunals. Newspaper staff can now throw the libel concerns in the bottom drawer. The headlines are going to be bigger than usual in the next few months. Who needs a Bill Clinton for entertainment?

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