By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor has been given a three-month jail sentence and fined £10,000 for contempt of court arising from his failure to cooperate with the Flood Tribunal investigating corruption in the planning process.
In a strongly worded ruling, the judge told Lawlor everyone is equal before the law and there are no "untouchables."
Lawlor, who’s 55, is the first person to receive a prison sentence in connection with the sleaze tribunals in recent years probing payments to politicians. He also faces a huge bill for legal costs.
The TD made no comment on his sentence when he left court Monday. The sentence does not affect his ability to sit in the Dail. He would have been disqualified only if he had received a sentence of more than six months.
Fine Gael, nevertheless, called for him to resign his Dail seat, the Labor Party said the judgment was a "massive vindication" of the work of the Tribunal but that Lawlor’s position was a matter for the electorate, and the Greens said the decision heralded a new and genuine era of accountability.
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In a 90-minute ruling, High Court Judge Thomas Smyth ordered that Lawlor, who was first elected in Dublin West in 1977, was obliged to spend the first week of his three-month sentence in jail (starting today, Jan. 17).
The rest of the sentence has been suspended in order to give him a chance to comply with a High Court order of last Oct. 24 to cooperate fully with the Flood Tribunal.
Smyth said that for citizens of the state to be found in such contempt "is a disgrace, but for a public representative it is an absolute scandal." He said Lawlor had let down the people who had elected him.
During four days in the witness box at the Tribunal in December, Lawlor maintained that only his role as a TD or local councilor should be investigated and details of his personal accounts, business affairs and credit cards were his own business.
His arguments had been rejected by the High and Supreme Courts.
After a trawl through his affairs the Tribunal lawyers estimated £4.66 million had passed through about 30 bank accounts and 10 companies associated with the TD and the source of over £2.5 million is still unexplained.
Lawlor, who has recently begun to speak of himself in the third person, has repeatedly maintained, "Liam Lawlor has nothing to hide."
The former Dublin hurler has had a controversial career in politics but has never achieved ministerial office. He twice lost his seat in elections but subsequently regained it.
Faced with the prospect of a no-confidence motion from colleagues last week, Lawlor stepped down as vice-chairman of the Oireachtas Finance and Public Service Committee. In his resignation speech, he attacked the Fine Gael, Labor and PD leaders and made allegations about improper conduct on their part.