Ex-minister and lobbyist: No close ties between politicians and builders

A former junior finance minister who became a lobbyist for the construction industry months after losing his seat has denied that firms were too close to politicians during the boom.

Tom Parlon, who became director general of the Construction Industry Federation after losing his Dáil seat in 2007, made the claim at the banking inquiry yesterday. He was speaking alongside his predecessor at the CIF, Liam Kelleher.

Mr Parlon, a former Progressive Democrats TD, rejected claims that a cosy relationship between ministers and builders contributed to the crash.

Labour senator Susan O’Keeffe asked what Mr Parlon meant when he said in a 2007 interview, after taking up the CIF role, that “I’m in and out of the Dáil every day” and whether there was too much of a closeness between the sectors.

He told her that “there’s no doubt having an awareness of how the Dáil works helped” him to get the role.

Mr Parlon said the CIF was more interested in his prior experience running the Irish Farmers Association.

Asked by Socialist Party leader Joe Higgins if “the fact your government continued in office was the reason why a farmer was put in charge of the construction federation”, Mr Parlon said the position was widely advertised. He said individual builders were in “vicious” competition with each other, meaning it was never in his interest, nor that of the CIF, to give personal knowledge to individual firms.

His predecessor in the CIF role, Mr Kelleher, said the representation of building firms and lobbying has always been a “key element of the CIF’s activities”. He said this was done in an open way on issues relating to capital spending, tax, and planning.

Mr Kelleher said the CIF always “sought to fit in our submissions with whatever the government strategy was of that day” and that officials also met with opposition TDs.

He said the CIF never donated to parties but he could not speak on behalf of “individual members”, adding that lobbying on behalf of particular groups “is the nature of democracy”.

Mr Parlon was also asked about a report commissioned by the CIF in 2010 which was highly critical of Nama. He confirmed it was funded to the tune of €100,000 from builders themselves who believed “investing in expert advice” would be helpful to the country.

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