Thursday, 30 October 2008

Judges set tall task by litany of allegations, cash trails and digouts

AFTER 16 modules, 11 years, 400 witnesses, and a likely total cost of close to €300 million, the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments sat yesterday for what is expected to be its last public hearing.

Only one person remains on the tribunal's witness list, civil servant Gerry Carroll who was due to be briefly cross-examined by former assistant Dublin city and county manager George Redmond, whom he accused of being a bully.

The tribunal was set up in November 1997 to investigate allegations of planning corruption in Dublin.

Public hearings took place in Dublin Castle first before Mr Justice Flood and then, from late 2002, before chairman Judge Alan Mahon sitting with Judge Mary Faherty and Judge Gerald Keys.

Luckily for the public purse strings, not all witnesses sought legal representation. Of those who did, many have not yet claimed costs. So far, €8.9 million has been paid out for third-party legal expenses. The largest single payment, of €3.57 million, was made to lawyers for the late James Gogarty, the whistleblower whose allegations led to the setting up of the tribunal. Those against whom adverse findings were made have already had, and will in the future have, to pay their own legal bills.

The tribunal's own legal costs total €47.8 million, including €42.5 million to counsel and solicitors at the tribunal and the balance for costs in up to 30 cases in other courts. Des O'Neill SC earned €5.25 million, Patricia Dillon SC earned €4.6 million and Pat Quinn SC earned €3.8 million.

Administrative costs have so far amounted to almost €25 million. Judge Mahon has said he expects the total cost of the tribunal not to exceed €300 million.

Four interim reports were published; the first and fourth dealt with procedural matters, while the second and third, both by Justice Flood, made findings of corruption against Mr Redmond and former Fianna Fáil minister for communications Ray Burke.

These reports were clear, direct and netted €34.5 million in taxes for the Revenue.

The tribunal's current judges will have to sift through mountains of contradictory evidence, incredible allegations and meandering money trails.

They will look at evidence from Mr Redmond, who has denied allegations of corruption and who personally cross-examined some witnesses, including the late Liam Lawlor, who was as elusive as smoke.

They will have to consider allegations by Luton-based developer Tom Gilmartin against his former business partner Owen O'Callaghan and lobbyist Frank Dunlop. Mr Gilmartin, who had a seanchaí's love of a story, provided some of the most memorable anecdotes to emerge from the hearings.

He told the tribunal how he was driven from one pub to another in a pick-up truck in search of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. He also said Mr O'Callaghan fell out of a broom cupboard while trying to eavesdrop on him.

He talked of payments to politicians including former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and was labelled a fantasist by Mr O'Callaghan. Yet, sometimes his allegations were corroborated by other sources, or were revealed to have at least a nugget of truth in them.

Mr Dunlop's "road to Damascus" in April 2000, when he agreed to co-operate and provided a list of politicians to whom he said he made corrupt payments, will also have to be assessed. He said he told all to the tribunal, yet some entries in his diaries were so mutilated even the Federal Bureau of Investigation could not decipher them.

And the destination of some of his cash has never been ascertained, although €64,000 of it was said to have bought a horse that was never named and died a few months later.

The judges have listened with patience to a long line of politicians who, once it had been established they received money from Mr Dunlop, said the sums were legitimate political donations. They've heard evidence of invisible envelopes at fundraising dinners, tribunal documents lost in the Dáil car park and a conspiracy that sent a councillor to London when he should have been at a planning vote.

And they have followed the money trail with Bertie Ahern and heard about cash in safes, a house in Drumcondra, digouts and fit-outs and money that came from bets on horses.

To say the three judges have their work cut out is an understatement.

The Irish Times

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