By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The planning sleaze controversy has led to the resignation of a second Fianna Fail TD. Long-serving Dublin West deputy Liam Lawlor resigned last week in the wake of an internal party report that strongly criticized his lack of cooperation and contradictory evidence.
The report was made by FF’s Standards in Public Life Committee, which has been probing payments to politicians since lobbyist and bagman for developers Frank Dunlop claimed in April that he had spent hundreds of thousands of pounds buying votes to ensure planning rezonings were passed.
Dunlop made his claims under oath at the Flood Tribunal investigating allegations of planning corruption.
With both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail having finished their internal inquiries, there still remains what has been called a "black hole" of about £100,000 — the difference between the amount Dunlop says he handed out and what politicians are claiming was all they received.
Dunlop named about 30 politicians, local councilors, TDs and Senators, on written lists he gave to the Tribunal. They have yet to be published.
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Former Foreign Affairs Minister Ray Burke resigned from his cabinet job and his Dublin North seat in 1997 after revelations about substantial political donations he received from a number of sources.
Lawlor, who has been a member of the party for 39 years and was first elected a TD in 1977, said he would remain a member of the Dail and continue to support Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s minority coalition.
Lawlor said he received between £12,000 and £14,000 from Dunlop in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He says they were political donations. Another £38,000 Dunlop gave him were consultancy fees for a project in Prague, he claimed.
The chairman of the five-man committee, Dr. Rory O’Hanlon, was strongly critical of Lawlor in a letter he wrote to him last month.
"Having considered the correspondence emanating from you, together with the information that you furnished to the Committee during the interview, we are unanimously of the view that you are not giving your full assistance and cooperation," the letter said.
O’Hanlon also referred to the "inadequacy and contradictory" nature of Lawlor’s responses and said written and oral information "fundamentally conflicts."
He warned that lack of cooperation could result in "severe sanction" being imposed by the party. Within hours of the report’s publication Lawlor decided to go.
In his resignation statement, Lawlor again denied wrongdoing saying he had always made decisions in the public interest and never for financial gain.
He said he was going because he did not wish his position to be used to distract from the workings of the government.
A large proportion of the committee’s report is taken up with Lawlor’s case, correspondence surrounding it and details of payments he received.
The report also deals at some length with payments to another Dublin North TD, G.V. Wright. He received three payments totaling £10,000 from Dunlop in 1991-93 and £5,000 from others in four payments.
He also got £5,000 from developer Eoin O’Callaghan in 1992, which he claims was unsolicited but which the developer has since said he asked for.
With no statutory powers and the threat of legal action hanging over it, the committee’s 248-page report is carefully written and largely just factual. It interviewed 45 politicians but made no findings against any of them.
When the report was launched, former Foreign Minister David Andrews spoke of "concern" about matters in it and O’Hanlon said he had reached conclusions but he would reserve those for behind the closed doors of the FF parliamentary party meeting.
The committee recommended new laws to sanction developers found guilty of corruptly obtaining favorable decisions. They should pay a penalty of three times the extra value of their lands that were rezoned. This would follow a U.S. precedent.
Politicians, it said, should be penalized by a surcharge if corrupt actions led to extra costs, that they should make an annual declaration they had not received any extra reward in connection with their vote, and, finally, that they should be banned from acting as consultants.