Tribunal hears media stories coincided with council votes

CORK businessman Owen O’Callaghan has denied he leaked information about the financial difficulties of another developer, Tom Gilmartin, to two newspapers in the early 1990s.

The Mahon Tribunal heard yesterday that reports about Mr Gilmartin’s problems with the tax authorities in Britain were published in May 1991 and December 1992 — on each occasion just days before crucial votes by Dublin County Council on Quarryvale.

Mr O’Callaghan said the timing of such reports appearing in conjunction with the council meetings was “pure coincidence”.

He also claimed Mr Gilmartin was “completely incorrect” to suggest he had used his friendship with Albert Reynolds to get the British revenue authorities to investigate the developer’s finances.

A report in the British People newspaper on May 12, 1991, outlined how the British tax authorities were trying to recover £6.6m from Mr Gilmartin who was facing a weekly interest bill of £12,000. It was published just four days before a Dublin County Council vote on the rezoning of Quarryvale.

Although Mr Gilmartin had initiated plans for the development of a large-scale shopping centre at Quarryvale in the late 1980s, he was forced to bring in Mr O’Callaghan as a partner in the early 1990s as a result of pressure from AIB bankers.

Tribunal barrister Patricia Dillon SC reminded the hearing that Mr Gilmartin had blamed PR consultant, Frank Dunlop for the newspaper leak in order to ruin his chances of finding financial backers. Asked if he had any involvement in such a leak, Mr O’Callaghan replied: “Absolutely not.”

The planning inquiry heard that another report which revealed Mr O’Callaghan had been declared a bankrupt in Britain was published in the Sunday Tribune on December 13, 1992 — four days before another crucial vote by the council on Quarryvale.

“It is something we took very little notice of and I had no involvement in it if that is what you are suggesting,” said Mr O’Callaghan angrily. He admitted however that he could have spoken to Ted Harding, the report’s author, but insisted his input would have been “very limited”.

Mr O’Callaghan said Mr Harding’s piece was inaccurate to suggest that he had informed the reporter that Mr Gilmartin’s involvement in Quarryvale had ended almost two years previously.

Mr O’Callaghan denied that he had given the information about Mr Gilmartin’s bankruptcy to Mr Harding to publicly distance himself from the other developer because of the upcoming council vote.

Mr O’Callaghan said he actually felt sorry for the Sligo-born developer. He also noted that the publicity about Quarryvale had overshadowed any press reports about Mr Gilmartin’s financial problems.

In other evidence, Mr O’Callaghan said he had once kicked the developer on the leg during a meeting with representatives of the Quarryvale residents’ association to shut him up.

Ms Dillon said the evidence of others at the meeting suggested the incident took place as Mr Gilmartin was about to give details of a £50,000 payment he had made to a politician.

But Mr O’Callaghan said he had just wanted to stop Mr Gilmartin boasting about himself as he was “on a rant”. He accused the tribunal barrister of being unfair in suggesting he had tried to stop Mr Gilmartin identifying a corrupt politician. The developer admitted he never tried to find out who the politician was.

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