By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The new and shocking revelations about the mire of corruption in Irish public life that are now coming almost daily threaten to envelop the Oireachtas and destabilize the Fianna Fail-Progressive Democrats coalition.
The political process is reeling as the apparent litany of greed grows. The PDs have warned that if serious allegations are proven against TDs, they should be removed, regardless of the impact on the government, but Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said he expects the government to last its full term and be returned to power.
As the sworn evidence to the Flood Tribunal of self-confessed bagman and lobbyist Frank Dunlop revealed more about payments he made in the 1990s, the taoiseach said the abuses and corruption of the past have to be dealt with.
"If we get to a position that we find that decisions were being made based on corruption, that is a very serious issue," Ahern said. "It is a different issue that people got political donations for political purposes."
Chief Whip Seamus Brennan put it bluntly: "If hard evidence appears about any of our TDs, they’ll be out on their ear — off the Fianna Fail party completely. If there is any evidence of bribery or corruption, we will deal with it rapidly."
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Though he has so far only dealt with part of his time as a ringmaster coordinating activities among landowners, developers, councilors, TDs and senators, Dunlop’s testimony suggests he gave cash handouts to between a quarter and a third of the 78 members of the council.
The former government press secretary has also named 13 landowners, builders, and companies that funded what he called the "stash of cash" in his "war chest" of more than £420,000.
Dunlop, who served under Jack Lynch and Charles Haughey, has now become a major whistleblower for the inquiry as he hands over lists to its lawyers of politicians, how much they got, and his paymasters, who stood to make millions from the land rezonings.
The lists remain confidential until the tribunal puts the allegations to the people concerned and awaits their response.
When Dunlop made his claims, there were calls to take the planning process away from politicians and put it in the hands of professionals and public servants.
However, Dunlop’s evidence has been followed by equally extraordinary testimony from the man who had been one of Dublin’s top public servants, retired Assistant City and County Manager George Redmond.
He had amassed a fortune of over £1 million — almost twice that if you include the value of his home — from cash handouts from developers and builders for what he described as "extramural activities" and "advice" he gave.
He had 38 bank accounts scattered throughout Irish financial institutions, and in the North, Britain and Spain in his own name, the Irish version of it and in fictitious names and those of friends and relatives.
Redmond, who was effectively county manager, had been on the take for years. By 1971, he had accumulated four times his annual salary. In 1972-81, his net salary was £58,500 but his savings soared by from £20,000-£300,000.
He subsequently stuffed money all over the place. In 1984 his diary shows he had £35,000 in his bathroom and £12,000 in his kitchen.
He gave loans to people, bought life insurance, bought a holiday home and an apartment and gave cash to his sons to buy houses and gifts to his grandchildren. And all the time, he counted the money and counted it.
Redmond is refusing to come clean about where all the cash came from. Justice Feargus Flood threatened to begin criminal proceedings against him unless he told the truth. During persistent questioning, Flood reminded Redmond that he had the power to refer the matter to the DPP.
He warned him to "get down to reality and tell the tribunal exactly what happened."
Redmond has already admitted he lied to gardai after he was arrested at Dublin Airport by the Criminal Assets Bureau bringing in about £300,000 from the Isle of Man last year. He told them the late FF councilor Pat Dunne gave him £10,000 to sign a compulsory purchase order. He said he was stuck for an answer to police about where some money came from.
As Redmond claimed memory problems, Flood said he found it extremely difficult, and almost unbelievable, to accept that a man who, according to his own diary, calculated his financial position down to the last penny at three weekly or monthly periods, could not now remember those details.
While Dunlop is cooperating with the tribunal, as the bagman in the middle he can expect to be hung out to dry. Where untraceable cash was involved, many may brazenly reject the claims he has made in his sworn evidence.
At the least, developers are expected to deny they knew he was paying off politicians on their behalf and even politicians who received large sums will maintain they were political donations and no favors were sought or given.
While some politicians received only relatively modest sums, Dunlop also spoke of politicians who have become known as "Mr. Insatiable," "Mr. Powerful" (who is thought to have received a total of £48,500), "Mr. Muscle" (because he constantly tried to muscle if there was the chance of pocketing some cash), and "Mr. Ongoing."
Dunlop described the development plan votes between 1990-93 as the "road map" of his operation. The green fields around Dublin turned into goldmines as the value soared when simple majority votes rezoned them from agricultural use to housing, commercial development or industry.
Much of the Dunlop cash was handed over under the noses of an 18-month investigation of planning corruption allegations by a team of Garda detectives in the early 1990s.
Dunlop told the tribunal how it was organized. Even if a vote was not imminent, the cash payments continued to keep politicians "on line" — or remained bought — in case they were needed.