Thursday, 30 October 2008

Mahon tribunal ends 11 years of hearings

THE CHAIRMAN of the Mahon tribunal, Judge Alan Mahon, thanked witnesses, their legal representatives, tribunal staff, members of the public who attended its hearings, and the journalists who regularly covered its proceedings, at the outset of what was effectively the tribunal's final day of hearing evidence yesterday.

The tribunal has held 916 days of public hearings into allegations of planning corruption over the past 11 years. It is expected to cost the exchequer in excess of €300 million when third-party legal costs are submitted following the publication of its final report some time next year.

Only two members of the public attended yesterday's sitting, which was held so certain evidence could be read into the public record.

There is a chance a further, short hearing may be heard, Judge Mahon said.

Judge Mahon, who took over as chairman of the tribunal from its original chairman, Mr Justice Feargus Flood, said the tribunal had since 2002 heard evidence from more than 400 witnesses, producing more than 60,000 pages of transcripted evidence.

He said more than 76,000 pages of documents had been circulated in briefs to interested parties.

The tribunal heard from Patricia Dillon SC, for the tribunal, that the son of the late Liam Lawlor, Niall Lawlor, had told the tribunal he would not be travelling from the US to give evidence. The tribunal also heard that the late Mr Lawlor's wife, Hazel Lawlor, would not be giving evidence as she was not in a position to do so, for medical reasons.

Pat Quinn SC, for the tribunal, read documentation associated with the late Mr Lawlor into the record. It included a statement from Mr Lawlor to the effect that he received £30,000 in political contributions from Declan Ganley's business, Ganley International, in 1996.

Mr Quinn also said the tribunal had been told that an invoice dated February 1997 from Mr Ganley's business at 128 Mount Street, London, was used by Mr Lawlor when providing documentation to cover for a £25,000 payment to him from the former lobbyist and Fianna Fáil election agent, Frank Dunlop.

The cheque for that amount and made out to Ganley International, was lodged by an associate of Mr Lawlor's, Patrick Murphy to an account in his name in Lucan, Dublin, and the proceeds given to Mr Lawlor over time.

Evidence taken on commission from the long-time associate of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Tim Collins, was read into the record by the tribunal registrar, Peter Kavanagh. Mr Collins's evidence was given in private, or on commission, for medical reasons. He attended Dublin Castle on October 9th, along with his counsel Hugh Mohan SC.

Mr Collins was questioned about his involvement in the purchase of land at Cloghran, Co Dublin, by John Butler, Tom Williams and Niall Kenny in 1989. The land was bought for £165,000 and Mr Collins said he was paid a finder's fee in 1996 of £29,613. Mr Collins said he used to drive around looking for property that might be of interest to clients.

"I drove into the yard and I asked the chap in the yard" if the land was up for sale, he said.

Mr Collins said he introduced lobbyist Frank Dunlop to the purchasers of the land during a chance meeting in the offices of the architect, Ambrose Kelly, in 1993. Told that Mr Dunlop had said he made it clear at the meeting that councillors would have to be paid if the land at Cloughran was to be rezoned, Mr Collins replied: "That's a lie."

He said Mr Dunlop's contribution was "public relations". The land was rezoned and sold at a substantial profit.

The tribunal adjourned and its public proceedings may now be complete.

The Irish Times

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