By John Kelly
Frank Dunlop was in particular discomfort in St. Anne’s Church in midtown Manhattan. He was trapped at the back of a crowded sacristy when Charles Haughey, then the taoiseach, finished a brief homily on the late Eamon De Valera over the very christening font where the late president and founder of Fianna Fail
had been baptized.
It was one of the highlights of Haughey’s official government visit to the U.S. His next stop during that very crowded trip was the United Nations building, where Haughey had a private meeting with the secretary general. The following day, St. Patrick’s Day, he was in the White House to meet President Reagan.
After finishing his brief speech in St. Anne’s, Haughey intended to present a facsimile copy of the Book of Kells to the parish priest as a memento.
Dunlop, clutching the gift, desperately attempted to get through the tightly packed crowd as Haughey gestured with all of the contemptuous impatience only he could muster.
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There were sympathetic smiles all around as Dunlop finally managed to hand the book to his imperious mentor so that the presentation could finally be made.
Dunlop was young and much less brash then. But he had already experienced a tough introduction to politics after his appointment by the late Jack Lynch.
Fianna Fail hired him at roughly the same time as Seamus Brennan T.D. Lynch and the hierarchy had decided that Fianna Fail had to change its image and modernize. Brennan was brought in specifically to develop the party’s youth wing, Ogra Fianna Fail.
Dunlop was hired as public-relations officer for the taoiseach. He continued in that position after the succession of Haughey, a notoriously hard taskmaster who took no prisoners among his staff, often changing personnel as frequently as his Charvet shirts. As a result, the Kilkennyman was at the hub of Irish politics during some of its most traumatic times. A cheerful, up-front sort of a man who made friends easily, he naturally got to know some of the most influential people in Ireland. When he finally left the inner political circle, he put that familiarity to good use.
Normally a man as resilient as the pneumatic tire invented by another Irishman who bears the same name, Dunlop’s carefully cultivated and valuable image was severely dented at the Flood Tribunal into payments for
favors from politicians.
He describes himself as a professional political lobbyist, a man who could, and did, get what mattered done for businessmen and property speculators to whom it mattered a lot.
The movers and shakers needed, or thought they needed, a man like him. Perhaps they did. But now, Dunlop has thrown them to the wolves.
With his astounding revelations to the Flood Tribunal, forced from him through a serious warning from the chairman, Justice Flood, he has revealed that planning in Ireland is as corrupt as a fish head in a rubbish dump.
He was, in fact, a bagman. His function was to ensure that property developers and owners got the sort of re-zoning they needed, primarily in Dublin. One result is that we got the city we now have.
In the process, Dunlop became a very wealthy man. So too did the developers and owners who paid for his services. And as his reputation as a fixer blossomed, Dublin County councilors, whom he paid to rezone land, thereby increasing its value a thousand fold, gleefully fattened their bank deposits.
All they had to do for payments, totaling £180,000, ranging from sums of £500 to no less than £25,000, was to ensure that they either voted for particular rezoning or that they absented themselves from the relevant council meeting. Abstention was as good as a vote because what
Dunlop had to ensure was that planning permission was obtained.
This was particularly critical in the years leading immediately up to 1993, when Dublin County Council devised a development plan involving the rezoning
of no fewer than 3,000 acres.
One of his achievements was to ensure that a major shopping center, Quarryvale, in west Dublin, got off the ground. Fianna Fail T.D. Liam Lawlor has admitted that he obtained "contributions" of £48,000-plus for
"political expenses" incurred in his election. He has promised that he will reveal all to the tribunal when he appears before it and has claimed that the money was used for the purpose intended.
Most sensationally, Dunlop, claimed that some payments were still ongoing. In other words, some councilors or senior politicians are still on the take.
Rather than be forced to do so, he has revealed all of the relevant names he can remember. Those names are now in a locked safe and will not be revealed. Only when witnesses are called will the general public become aware of who they are.
However, there will be leaks, of course. There always are. Meanwhile, newspapers will naturally continue to speculate as to their identities.
In 1992, Dunlop admitted that he was in possession of a "stash of cash" from speculators. He dipped into the stash whenever it seemed necessary to gain the favor of councilors whose votes were needed to obtain particular planning permission.
Occasionally, councilors even expressed their gratitude privately. Others were so "insatiable" that they kept coming back for more and more. In return, they played the "numbers game," as Dunlop described it.
One man who was playing the game much earlier than any was George Redmond, the former Dublin assistant manager who trebled and quadrupled his relatively modest salary by doing favors for all sorts of developers from
as far back as 1971.
Until now, the Flood Tribunal has tended to flounder around like a beached shark with nothing to bite. Flood is due to retire shortly.
It looks like he will be in Dublin Castle for quite a lot longer before that he can enjoy it.
Paradoxically, for almost all of the wrong reasons, the affable and well-liked Frank Dunlop has performed a major public service for his country.