Council votes for sale
Public interest overridden by private gain
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
It was significant that it was Easter week when the latest revelations spilled from the Flood Tribunal. Former Fianna Fáil press secretary and freelance political lobbyist Frank Dunlop told the tribunal that he had paid £112,000 to 15 Dublin County councillors in 1991 as crucial votes were being taken to rezone land for a massive shopping mall project at Quarryvale in County Dublin.
Dunlop's disclosures were just a small example of how far the 26-County political establishment have strayed from the ideals that founded the republic, whern the 1919 Democratic Programme committed the state to ensure that ``all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare''. Instead, Dunlop's testimony showed a state where public representatives use their power to represent the public interest as something to be sold to further their own private gain.
It was ironic then, that Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern chose his party's annual Easter commemoration at Arbour Hill to defend allegations that he had received £50,000 from Owen O'Callaghan, the property developer behind the Quarryvale project.
Dunlop's testimony was given partly in secret as he wrote the names down of the councillors he had given money to. Only the chairperson of the Tribunal, its legal representatives and Dunlop know the names. We do know, despite the denials from Owen O'Callaghan that he never authorised the alleged payments made by Dunlop, that O'Callaghan did pay Dunlop £1 million for his work on the Quarryvale project. Included in this was a £300,000 ``success fee'' for getting council size restrictions on the Quarryvale project overturned.
Patrick Hanratty SC for the Tribunal mischievously asked Dunlop whether or not the money was paid in brown paper bags. There was a certain voyeuristic interest shown by the media in the locations where Dunlop alleges monies were paid - Conway's Pub, the bar in Leinster House and even councillors' homes. To cap the drama, at the climax of his outpourings, Frank Dunlop took ill and the Tribunal had to be adjourned until May.
The next step in the proceedings is the testimony from the 78 Dublin County councillors on whether they were lobbied to sell their votes by Dunlop and most importantly whether or not they took money from Owen O'Callaghan.
In the same week that Dunlop made his allegations, Irish Nationwide chief executive Michael Fingleton was also in the witness box giving evidence on why his society had not complied with a tribunal order for discovery of documentation made eight weeks previously. Fingleton rejected the allegation that his attitude was cavalier. However, it does show the establishment resistance to the work of the Flood and other tribunals
The Flood Tribunal's work has been dogged by legal challenges and ongoing media manipulation, as a range of vested interests have tried to downplay their involvement in its investigations. A range of unsubstantiated stories have surfaced and been given a significant airing in many papers.
What has been overlooked is the broader context of the Flood Tribunal revelations. They are a vital part of a jigsaw of corruption throughout the political and economic establishment of Irish society.
The McCracken Tribunal uncovered illicit payments to politicians and illegal tax havens. The Moriarty Tribunal has taken up the baton and exposed the extent of illegal offshore accounts, private illegal banks and more dubious payments to politicians.
Add to this the £200 million of unpaid tax found in the DIRT inquiry, the illegal practices and bizarre government polices uncovered in the Beef Tribunal, and it all adds up to a very sick body politic.
What is most damning about the Flood Tribunal revelations is that for years planning decisions were taken in County Dublin under the most dubious of regimes. The Flood Tribunal is for now only dealing with three developers and three separate building projects. Most people believe what has been uncovered in these cases is symptomatic of the whole planning process.
West Dublin, Tallaght and other other areas of Dublin were for years crying out for basic services like shopping facilities. They were denied. Such shopping malls were only delivered, it seems, when the level of possible profitability was greatest. The actual social needs were ignored and the commitments of the democratic programme overridden. The private interest superseded the public. Bertie Ahern needs to do more than just deny allegations; he needs to ask the question about what kind of Ireland the republican tradition he lays claims to has actually created.