The old man and the sleaze

THERE is something ignominious about a frail 79-year-old man being hauled off to prison, shuffling along and trying to support himself with the aid of an umbrella.

That was the spectacle last November when George Redmond, the former assistant Dublin City and County Manager, was brought to Cloverhill Prison to begin a 12-month sentence for corruption.

Yesterday, his disgrace was complete when the Planning Tribunal issued its third interim report compiled by former chairman, Mr Justice Flood and found damning evidence of his corrupt planning practices.

Despite his advanced years, Redmond deserves little sympathy. He sparked fear and trepidation among his staff and ruled his empire in a most draconian manner. At the same time, he also evoked ridicule for legendary thriftiness which bordered on the bizarre.

One of oldest inmates in any Irish prison, Redmond has little in common with his neighbours at Cloverhill, separated by age, class and the white-collar nature of his crime.

Never a household name, he ran local government in County Dublin with an iron fist, inspiring fear in subordinates and bemusement in proponents of proper planning.

Having spent his entire career with Dublin Corporation and the County Council, he knew every by-law and planning procedure in the book. What the former pupil of the Christian Brothers in Artane lacked in formal education, he made up for in cunning and natural intelligence.

He put his supreme knowledge to good use, dispensing 'advice' to an ever-growing stream of developers and landowners.

Redmond became expert in devising shortcuts, legal manoeuvres and planning ploys, designed to smooth the way towards rezoning or planning permissions.

'JR', as his friends dubbed him, was the man to bring buyers and sellers of land together, to dispense hot tips about planning information, to check the files in the back office. He knew when the new maps were ready and was first to know where the council planned to build roads and lay sewers.

All this advice-giving was his "extra-mural activity," he told the Flood/Planning Tribunal, while insisting none of the rewards he received were solicited. Between 1979 and 1989 alone, £1.2m passed through his many bank accounts. His salary at the time was £29,000. In 1988, the year before he retired, his investments totalled £660,000, or more than 35 times his annual after-tax pay.

His biggest benefactors were Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan, once the largest house-builders in the State. In 2002, the Flood Tribunal found that Brennan and McGowan made a number of corrupt payments to former Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke.

Redmond was said to wear a coat at home to save on heating bills and took his lunch to work every day in a sandwich-box except when someone else was buying. He was also a hoarder, stashing money in cupboards. In the early 1980s, his diary recorded cash sums of £35,000 kept in the bathroom, £12,000 in the kitchen and £22,000 in 'a press'.

A builder friend, Batt O'Shea, best summed up Redmond's miserly streak. The two were golfing partners but their games were ruined for O'Shea because Redmond would spend all day looking for lost balls.

"It was like gold to him," O'Shea recalled. O'Shea alleviated the problem by throwing £200 at Redmond to buy golf balls.

During his spell in the witness box at the tribunal, he pleaded with Mr Justice Flood for a longer lunch-break so he could go home to Castleknock, where his wife, Maureen, would fix him lunch for free. The chairman rejected his request but a local café-owner, touched by his plea, gave him a free lunch. What he hadn't bargained for was Redmond, who has a €40,000-a-year pension, turning up on successive days looking for the same deal.

George Redmond has been enjoying free lunches for the past two months. If he receives any more convictions for corruption he could even have free lunches for the rest of his life.

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