Burke hints that source of leaks ‘close to home’

FORMER Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke has advised the chairman of the Planning Tribunal, Judge Alan Mahon, to look “close to home” for the source of leaks of confidential papers from the inquiry.

Mr Burke, who was making his first appearance at Dublin Castle since November 2001, said the tribunal should look towards who benefited from the disclosure of such material. He said that not one of the many continuous leaks which had been going on over the past seven years had been favourable towards him.

“It might not be bad to look close to home,” said the former Dublin North TD. Judge Mahon replied caustically: “whatever that means.”

Meanwhile, Mr Burke told the inquiry that he had no recollection of ever meeting property developer Tom Gilmartin with a group of other Fianna Fáil ministers in Leinster House in February 1989.

The tribunal has already heard evidence from former Cabinet colleague Mary O’Rourke which appeared to partially confirm Mr Gilmartin’s recollection that such a meeting had taken place.

Mr Burke said his diaries suggest he was at other meetings at the time when Mr Gilmartin claims the meeting with members of the Government took place. However, he stressed that he saw nothing wrong with such a meeting as described by the developer.

Asked if he took issue with Ms O’Rourke’s evidence, Mr Burke said he disagreed with her as he had no recollection of the meeting. “To the best of my knowledge, I never met Tom Gilmartin, full stop.”

The former minister is currently taking a High Court action to compel the tribunal to pay his €10.5m legal bill arising from its investigations into money he received from the property developers, Tom Brennan and Joe McGowan, Century Radio and engineering firm, JMSE.

In his landmark report of September 2002, the tribunal’s former chairman, Mr Justice Feargus Flood, found Mr Burke had received a series of corrupt payments totalling over £250,000 in the 1980s. He also concluded that the manner in which the politician acquired ownership of his former home in Swords, which was sold for around €3m a few years ago, amounted to a corrupt payment. He also ruled that Mr Burke had obstructed and hindered the inquiry on 14 separate grounds. He may still face a criminal prosecution on this issue as well as the fact that such a finding can make the offending party liable for the costs of the tribunal’s own legal team. Mr Burke is also facing a separate court case on charges that he made false tax returns in relation to the 1993 tax amnesty. In addition, the former justice minister was hit with a €2m tax bill by the Criminal Assets Bureau last year.

Meanwhile, former Fianna Fáil senator Willie Farrell said he believed Mr Gilmartin’s difficulties related to the planning authorities. A childhood friend of the developer, he said he did not recall Mr Gilmartin making specific claims against any individual.

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