Junior minister knew of 'protection money' payments

Junior minister knew of 'protection money' payments
Junior minister for drugs Catherine Byrne admitted

A Government minister was told Dublin City Council officials were paying “protection money” to criminals three years ago, but failed to tell the senior minister in her department.

Junior minister for drugs Catherine Byrne admitted the situation as Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy insisted he knew nothing of the situation until media reports this morning.

On Tuesday, the High Court heard Dublin City Council officials were aware and recommended protection money be paid to two criminals so that social housing could be built in west Dublin in 2016 and 2017.

Three firms, who were developing 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 council.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Sinn Féin TD Aengus Ó Snodaigh said after becoming aware of the concerns he wrote to Ms Byrne, Dublin City Council, and the Garda Superintendent in Clondalkin, west Dublin, on December 24, 2016.

However, despite Ms Byrne speaking with him about the situation in early January 2017, he was not told of any actions taking place to address the revelations.

Asked about the claims at a post-budget health briefing at Government Buildings yesterday, Ms Byrne confirmed she received the letter from Mr Ó Snodaigh, which has been seen by the Irish Examiner.

However, despite saying she contacted the gardaí and left the matter with them, Ms Byrne failed to say if she told her department’s senior minister, Eoghan Murphy — who was appointed in summer 2017 — of the situation at any point.

Similarly, foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney — who was housing minister until June 2017 — and current junior minister for local government Damien English both said they only learned of the issue today.

“I did know about the incident. I received an email into my office on Christmas Eve, I didn’t see the email until December 29,” Ms Byrne said when asked.

“I had a rung Dublin City Council after I saw the incident happened, and I was talking to officials in the local area office who told me there had been an incident where there was intimidation, a JCB was burned out, and the man who was driving it had been injured.

They assured me everything was fine and the council was dealing with it and the guards were involved.

“After that I looked at the letter, I was very concerned about what was in it, but I also saw that in the letter it said the guards were informed, and really at that stage my job was finished because it was a matter for An Garda Síochána,” she said.

Asked at a separate post-budget briefing ,Mr Murphy said he was unaware of the issue until media reports, adding: “I cannot condone this.”

Mr Ó Snodaigh said if any minister failed to act on the serious concerns that were raised, then their position must be called into question.

Justice minister Charlie Flanagan said he is “greatly disturbed” at what has happened and confirmed he is seeking “further reports” on the situation.

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