Category: Archive

Politicians on the take?

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — Carefully locked away in two safes in Dublin are sealed envelopes containing lists of names of 15 councilors, some of them TDs, with sums of money totaling £112,000 written opposite their names.

These documents are set to explosively break open the first layer of widespread planning payola and backhanders surrounding lands and developments in and around the city.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has emphatically denied a claim he was paid £50,000 in the Burlington Hotel car park in Dublin in 1989 for assistance in connection with a major retail development in the city.

After over two years of dogged probing, the Flood tribunal has sensationally broken the conspiracy of silence and denial surrounding the long-running rumors of political vote buying and corruption.

Faced with the prospect of a charge of obstructing and hindering the tribunal carrying a possible two-year jail sentence, the former government press secretary to two Fianna Fail taoisigh, Frank Dunlop finally admitted he was the bagman for a slush-fund connected with rezoning the Quarryvale site in west Dublin.

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He said the Cork-based developer Owen O’Callaghan had reimbursed him.

Crucially, as a key insider, Dunlop abandoned his pretense that his largesse involved only unsolicited political gifts and donations for which no favors were asked or given.

The money had been solicited and paid to 15 of the 78 councilors around the time of the June 1991 local elections. This was just after the Quarryvale rezoning vote a month before. The site has now been developed as the Liffey Valley shopping center.

Asked by Patrick Hanratty, for the tribunal, if the focus of his interest when he made the payments was the Quarryvale rezoning vote, Dunlop replied, "in broad terms, yes."

The sums ranged up to £48,500 in two payments for one politician he described as a "powerful individual."

Asked if this person received any further payments, Dunlop replied, "Not to my knowledge on this occasion." He then said the politician got more money at another time.

Dunlop said the politician had asked for the first £40,000 because he had been helpful when the lobbyist was hired by O’Callaghan in April 1991.

Dunlop collected the money in a briefcase and handed it over in his office.

Another politician asked for £12,000. He had been "centrally involved" in Quarryvale, Dunlop said, and in the light of his assistance, Dunlop said he decided to give him the money.

There was a "core" of councilors very active on the rezoning and they "were working hand in glove" with him, Dunlop admitted. They attended regular meetings in his office and in the architect’s office.

Working for a £5,000 a month plus VAT retainer, Dunlop also revealed he was paid a £300,000 "success fee" by O’Callaghan for later lobbying work to have a "cap" on the size of the Quarryvale development lifted in 1998.

Initially, Dunlop had been having difficulty accounting to the tribunal for tens of thousands of pounds he took out of banks in cash. Then it emerged he had not disclosed a bank account in Rathfarnham through which about £250,000 passed. This was despite discovery orders from tribunal lawyers.

Then tribunal staff found the account themselves last February and Dunlop’s fate was sealed. Now he has effectively turned state’s evidence and put his hands up.

In the face of skillful cross-examination and a less-than-subtle threat from High Court judge Feargus Flood that he should reflect on his position overnight, Dunlop began to write down the names and the size of the cash handouts.

Dunlop is already facing major financial problems for failing to disclose earnings to the Revenue Commissioners. If he had continued to refuse to cooperate with the tribunal, he faced the same obstruction charges that disgraced former Taoiseach Charles Haughey will be tried on in the Circuit Court.

He could have also faced a huge bill for extra legal costs and the expense of extra work for the tribunal.

Faced with financial ruin, he began divulging the circumstances of the cash handovers in two pubs — one just around the corner from Dublin County Council’s O’Connell Street office — in the Dail bar, in his office and at politicians’ homes.


Dunlop’s revelations have caused widespread outrage. Many are not so much shocked by what is emerging but that the tribunal has finally managed to begin to lift the lid on the scandal.

Many had been predicting that the tribunal was going to run into the sand at huge public expense and only expose corrupt minor players.

Garda planning corruption probes in 1974, ’89 and ’93 had hit a brick wall and countless journalist investigations were stymied by the code of silence, lack of firm proof and the stranglehold of libel laws.

Now, with Dunlop cooperating, former assistant city and county manager George Redmond expected to reveal details of the payments he amassed and what he got them for and London-based Sligo-born builder Tom Gilmartin — who first mooted the Quarryvale development — also set to give damning details of cash handouts, the gates appear to be opening for Flood.

That the lid is finally being lifted is also due to two crusading barristers Michael Smith, now national chairman of An Taisce, and Colm MacEocdaidh.

In 1995, they advertised a £10,000 reward for information about corruption through Newry solicitors Donnelly, Neary and Donnelly because no Dublin firm would act for them.

Within weeks another important Flood witness, James Gogarty, contacted them with his story of payments to former Foreign Minister Ray Burke. About 60 letters were received, a substantial number involving serious allegations.

A spokesman for the Newry firm, Kevin Neary, said he is not surprised by the Dunlop disclosures. The evidence the firm had received was that payments were a regular occurrence.

"I think you have to expect more to come," Neary said. "Further revelations are inevitable."

The Dunlop disclosures involve only one site. Neary said his clients maintain that, with continuing irrational rezoning decisions in the face of planning logic and public opposition, "one has to question whether things have really changed."

Confessional mode

As the avalanche of disclosures builds up speed, many more can be expected to go into confessional mode. They will also want to minimize the judicial and financial damage they could face if they continue to stonewall or hide behind pleas of amnesia.

As the local government politicians voted for rezonings down the years, the stroke of a pen made landowners and developers multimillionaires overnight. Land switched from agricultural use to allow residential, commercial or industrial use soared in value.

Many strange decisions and votes will now come in for renewed scrutiny. The Green Party has already signaled this by demanding explanations about Dunlop’s lobbying of Dublin Corporation members on behalf of the taxi industry, whose license are controlled by local politicians.

The political ramifications began to emerge almost immediately Dunlop had finished giving his initial evidence about the Quarryvale IV and he was taken ill.

Politicians who had previously shown no enthusiasm to discuss possible corruption claims and whose evasion mantra was "that is a matter for the tribunal" were suddenly falling over themselves pledging to root out the bad apples.

A shattered Dunlop was excused and the tribunal will resume on May 9. The confident and jaunty PR man who had begun his evidence three days earlier had vanished. Apparently confused, he left the tribunal stooped and ashen faced and was led to a waiting car by his legal team.

Justice Minister John O’Donoghue is going to fast-track anti-corruption laws that will increase maximum sentences to 10 years and bring in unlimited fines. The law will be extended to cover other office holders in addition to TDs, senators and judges.

Taoiseach committee

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has asked Fianna Fail chairman Rory O’Hanlon to convene the Standards in Public Life Committee contained in the party’s mandatory code of standards.

Ahern said that under no circumstances is the receipt of money to influence a vote on planning or other matters justified.

He also pointed out that the code contains procedures for investigation of allegations of impropriety with potential sanctions including expulsion.

Fine Gael leader John Bruton described Dunlop as an "incredible witness." He again strenuously denied claims by Dunlop that he had told him about alleged demands from a dead party councilor, Tom Hand, for £250,000.

Bruton is setting up an inquiry team to interview every party member of the Dublin County Council at the time to ensure any payments received had no corrupt motives.

Answering calls from the Labor Party, Ahern said in the Dail that he favored a Dail committee examining a system of registering the growing industry of lobbyists and so-called public affairs specialists.

Fianna Fail’s Dublin West TD, Liam Lawlor, has confirmed that he received a political contribution from Dunlop for what he described as legitimate electoral purposes. In a statement to RTE, he said the money was properly receipted at the time.

Government spin doctors have left their posts for the highly lucrative trade of lobbying and PR using contacts and knowledge gained from their time within the system. Most have free access to the corridors of power and the conviviality of the bar in Leinster House, where they have the ear of power-brokers.

Their industry has its own self-regulatory codes of practice, but there are no statutory controls and no "sanitation" period after they leave office. They can walk out of the government job today and immediately set themselves up in the private sector tomorrow.

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