Smith ‘can’t pinpoint’ councillor who admitted bribery

A GARDA investigation ordered by former Environment Minister Michael Smith into alleged planning corruption in the Dublin area in the early 1990s drew a blank, the Mahon Tribunal heard yesterday.

Mr Smith said he was unable to identify the Fianna Fáil party colleague on Dublin County Council who had admitted to him in 1993 that bribery was taking place.

In two speeches that year, the former FF minister had referred to planning in the Dublin area as a “debased currency” which were done at the requests of landowners and developers — at the expense of a broader planning vision.

Mr Smith confirmed he was the person, quoted in the Irish Times article on July 12, 1993, which recorded a minister asking the councillor: “‘Tell me this, is money changing hands?’ and the councillor replying, ‘well minister, I couldn’t deny it’.”

Asked who the councillor was, Mr Smith told tribunal lawyer Patricia Dillon SC said he had racked his brain... “I’m just not able to pinpoint it in my mind.”

Ms Dillon quoted from an article in the Irish Times the following day, July 13, 1993, that landowners and developers had offered and in some cases had paid money to Dublin councillors who supported controversial land rezoning schemes.

For a couple of months before that, Mr Smith said his concerns “were gradually getting to a point where I knew that action had to be taken” — and that action was a Garda inquiry into alleged planning corruption.

Former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte, as chairman of the county council, wrote to each councillor on July 26, 1993, asking them to co-operate with the investigation being conducted by Inspector Michael Guiney of Dublin’s Store Street station.

Asked by Ms Dillon if he was queried by the gardaí about his conversation with the FF councillor, Mr Smith said he was not.

“I have no recollection and I’m sure I was not questioned on that by the Garda authority.”

Asked what happened to the inquiry, Mr Smith said he was fairly clear the Garda authorities reported back to his department “indicating that they had not been able to trace matters of corruption”.

Following his “debased currency” speech he recalled a number of FF councillors meeting him in his Leinster House office, after somebody had made an approach to then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds.

The councillors — who included GV Wright, Colm McGrath, Betty Coffey and the late Cyril Gallagher — “quite angrily addressed the issues as they saw them”, as they felt Mr Smith was appearing to be against all zonings, which was not the position.

Asked if he had questioned them about being offered money, Mr Smith said he had not.

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