Ex-FG ministers admit giving wrong details on donations

TWO former Fine Gael ministers have admitted they gave wrong information to an internal party inquiry established to examine payments to politicians three years ago.

Nora Owen and Seán Barrett acknowledged at the Planning Tribunal yesterday that they provided inaccurate details about political donations and voting records in the early 1990s to the Fine Gael committee.

Although neither Ms Owen nor Mr Barrett have been the subject of any allegations of planning corruption, their admission will cause some embarrassment for Fine Gael.

Ironically, the current module of the tribunal is examining allegations by political lobbyist Frank Dunlop that he paid a total of £6,000 in bribes to four Fianna Fáil councillor in 1993 to support the rezoning of lands in north Co Dublin. The four councillors are GV Wright, Seán Gilbride, Jack Larkin and Cyril Gallagher.

Mr Dunlop claims he made the payments in relation to attempts to rezone land in Baldoyle, which was owned by car dealer Denis Mahony and accountant Noel Fox.

Yesterday, Ms Owen accepted she had failed to tell the Fine Gael inquiry three years ago that she had received a £500 donation from Mr Mahony at the time of the 1991 local elections.

The inquiry was set up following the sensational evidence of Mr Dunlop in May 2000 that he had paid bribes to a large number of councillors in relation to Quarryvale and over a dozen other developments.

Asked to explain the omission of Mr Mahony’s donation, Ms Owen said she had not regarded him as a developer, which was the focus of the Fine Gael inquiry. However, Ms Owen stressed she had pointed out to the committee that she had probably received a number of donations of which she had no record.

Ms Owen explained there was nothing unusual about her support for the rezoning of the Mahony/Fox land as people were always lobbying councillors about rezoning act, such lobbying was “de rigeur”, she said.

However, tribunal member Judge Gerald Keys said it appeared she had favoured “a very well-off businessman” against the wishes of the council’s own planners and 2,530 individuals, including the Portmarnock Community Association, who had objected to the rezoning.

“With respect, that is your interpretation,” replied Ms Owen.

Former Dun Laoghaire TD Seán Barrett acknowledged he was wrong to have stated to the Fine Gael inquiry that he had voted against a proposal to rezone Baldoyle Racecourse in 1993.

Tribunal barrister Patricia Dillon SC pointed out that Mr Barrett had actually abstained on a vote which had the effect of preventing the former racecourse from being rezoned.

The Fine Gael committee said it was satisfied that an unsolicited cheque for £1,000 which Mr Barrett received from Mr Dunlop had no influence on his voting intentions about the Baldoyle Racecourse in which the lobbyist had a beneficial interest.

The committee said its view on the matter had been reinforced by the fact that Mr Barrett had voted against the rezoning while he was aware of Mr Dunlop's interest in the land.

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