Businessman 'used FF whip to apply for planning', court hears

A prominent businessman has told the George Redmond corruption trial that he used the Fianna Fáil chief whip on Dublin County Council, the late Mr Patrick Dunne, to assist him in planning matters.

Mr Robert (Pino) Harris, who owns a truck distribution business, said at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court that the deceased Councillor Dunne would "do all the planning for us".

"He did a lot of business with my company," Mr Harris told prosecution counsel, Ms Pauline Walley SC (with Mr Patrick McGrath BL). "If we wanted an extension to a shed or something like that, he would apply for permission with us. He knew how to do all that."

Mr Harris also said he sold his farm, The Montana Stud, in Ashbourne, Co Meath, to the late husband of Mrs Mary Seagrave, the same person who owned the land at Buzzardstown in north-west Dublin on which Mr Redmond issued a Compulsory Purchase Order.

Mr Seagrave bought the home, described by Mr Harris as "a spare house I had" in 1982 after Mrs Seagrave agreed to the CPO by Dublin County Council.

Mr Harris said he could not remember how he met Mr Seagrave and denied Mr Dunne was given any money to assist in the sale of the farm.

It was day-three of the trial in which Mr Redmond denies receiving IR£10,000 from Mr Dunne on a date between October 10, 1985 and June 26, 1989 as an inducement or reward for doing or forebearing to do anything in respect of the compulsory purchase order (CPO) and to receiving the Irl£10,000 as a reward for showing favour to another in relation to the same land.

The jury has heard the CPO on Buzzardstown was issued in 1980, but the land was not purchased until 1985 due to a High Court challenge and disagreement about the price with the owners. The court also heard Mr Redmond initially did not want to complete the order as he felt council finances were overstretched.

Mr Martin McLoone, former chief valuer with Dublin County Council, said the owners of Buzzardstown wanted IR£34,000 an acre (IR£5.68m in total) for it. When Mr McLoone told them to be realistic they said they would not settle for less than IR£25,000 an acre (IR£4.2m).

Judge Joseph Matthews asked Mr McLoone: "So it was the money that was the issue, not the farm?"

"In my experience, everyone who sells something is interested in the money," he responded.

Judge Matthews commented: "So you made them an offer they couldn't refuse."

Mr McLoone said when a total of Irl£2.5m was agreed upon he recommended to Mr Redmond that he accept the terms of sale. He said he received a response that Mr Redmond was not ready to sign the order and that they might be paying too much for the land.

Mr Michael Coleman, a section officer in the Council's land acquisition department, told Ms Walley of a meeting he attended with Mr Redmond, Mr Seagrave and Mr Dunne at which Mr Seagrave was upset as the CPO was taking to long to complete and wanted a commitment from the Council "to buy or withdraw".

Mr Coleman said Mr Redmond told Mr Seagrave that the Council finances were under pressure and they were not currently in a position to purchase the lands due to other commitments. When Mr Seagrave asked what was the intended purpose of the land Mr Redmond replied that "he wasn't in a position to go into that."

Mr Coleman agreed with defence counsel, Mr Brendan Grehan SC (with Mr Angus Buttanshaw BL), that there would be nothing unusual about Mr Dunne attending the meeting.

"He wasn't from that area but he was an elected member of the County Council," Mr Coleman said.

Mr Tom Sheehan, who worked in the Council's development office, said he too had signed off on the terms of sale and had recommended them for acceptance by Mr Redmond. He said a disagreement with Dublin Corporation to have them pay 50% (per cent) of the costs of Buzzardstown also delayed the purchase.

Mr Sheehan said an agreement was eventually reached with the Corporation but this wasn't followed through.

"It was an agreement subject to a disagreement," he told Mr Grehan.

When Mr Grehan asked him about a letter from the Corporation which counsel said "seems to say 'get lost' and don't bother us again", Mr Sheehan said it should be taken with a grain of salt. "They could have been just playing for time."

Mr Coleman added that although the land was purchased in 1985, he didn not know if the Corporation ever payed the 50% share.

The trial continues with a jury of three women and eight men after one member revealed he was a distant relative of someone reported previously as being associated with Mr Redmond.

The juror was discharged after legal argument on the matter and was commended highly by Judge Matthews for what he called "your honesty and great integrity in bringing this matter to the court's attention".


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