Council bosses in firing line over pay offs

Council bosses in firing line over pay offs
Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Cianan Brennan, and Cormac O’Keeffe

Dublin City Council chief executive Owen Keegan and senior bosses are facing mounting pressure to explain if they knew two council officials were paying protection money to criminals amid growing calls for a nationwide investigation into the scandal.

Demands have been made to clarify who knew what, and when, as concerns were raised over a potential unofficial policy to pay off criminals to ensure housing construction sites were not attacked.

In a High Court case on Tuesday, it emerged two council officials recommended protection money be paid to Derek O’Driscoll, 46, and Derek Reilly, 36, so that a 120-unit social housing development could be built in Cherry Orchard, west Dublin, in 2016 and 2017.

Three firms, which were delivering the homes for the council, were paying between €1,200 and €1,500 a week.

While no money was paid directly by the council to the criminals, the firms were reimbursed by the local authority after a number of violent incidents at the site, including a petrol bomb attack on a JCB operator in 2016.

The revelations have led to questions over whether the two officials were acting on their own or with the know-ledge or sanction of senior management — and, if they were acting alone, why management did not know what was happening.

In separate statements, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, junior minister Damien English, and former housing minister Simon Coveney, all said they only became aware of the payments yesterday.

Junior minister Catherine Byrne confirmed she was told of the payment of protection money in December 2016 in a letter from Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh, but failed to inform other ministers.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner last night, Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan said answers are needed about who knew of the unofficial payments.

“I think the independent investigation suggested by Dublin City Council should inquire into how money was paid, and into who within the council was aware that money was paid,” he said.

Mr O’Callaghan said the Government should consider launching its own independent investigation into the “alarming” situation.

He added that a wider review of all councils may also be needed.

The revelations have the potential to cause significant political problems, with Mr Murphy, Mr English, Mr Coveney, and Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan all admitting yesterday they knew nothing of the payments until the High Court case.

Asked at a post-budget briefing why she did not inform Government colleagues of what happened, Ms Byrne said: “I did know about the incident. I received an email into my office on Christmas Eve [2016].

I didn’t see the email until December 29. I had rung the council after I saw the incident happened... They assured me everything was fine and the council was dealing with it and the guards were involved.

In a statement, Dublin City Council said no direct payments were made by the local authority to the two criminals involved.

However, it confirmed it was aware of “an extraordinary level of intimidation and criminal activity directed at this contractor’s staff, the council’s own staff, and at the building site”.

Meanwhile, sources have told the Irish Examiner further incidents of attempted extortion allegedly occurred as recently as June of this year in nearby Ballyfermot.

The Irish Examiner asked Dublin City Council what investigations are under way into the issue, and whether the two council officials mentioned in the High Court were operating by themselves.

The council did not answer the question directly, but did say that it “does not condone the payment of protection money by any of its contractors”.

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