O’Callaghan denies ‘doodle’ linked £80k to election and key council vote

PROPERTY developer Owen O’Callaghan yesterday denied that his “doodling” on accounting documents linked £80,000 he paid to lobbyist Frank Dunlop to local elections and a key Dublin County Council vote in favour of a major planning project.

The Cork businessman insisted that a suggestion by Mahon Tribunal counsel Patricia Dillon, that he had “cobbled together” an explanation for notes he made 17 years ago, was “completely incorrect”.

Mr O’Callaghan wrote comments on papers outlining balances that related to a number of transactions involving former government press secretary Mr Dunlop’s work for his plans to develop land at Quarryvale, Co Dublin, now the location of the Liffey Valley shopping complex.

He agreed that a total of £80,000 had been paid to Mr Dunlop for his lobbying expertise, and that was followed by a deal for the payment of a further £95,000, as well as unspecified expenses.

Mr O’Callaghan said when he made notes referring to expenses and elections, he was “just doodling” about the amounts involved for his own information, telling the planning probe: “In my mind, I was just trying to justify the size of them.

“I always felt that the fees were fairly high but we were obliged to pay them.”

Mr O’Callaghan has denied all knowledge of bribes Mr Dunlop has admitted paying to county councillors to ensure their support for vital planning issue divisions.

He believed the lobbyist would have been asked by councillors contesting local elections in 1991 to make political contributions for their expenses and the funding of “election paraphernalia”.

He told the tribunal that Mr Dunlop could have been asked for contributions by as many as 40 or 50 councillors.

“It is a lot of money when you add it all up,” Mr O’Callaghan said.

In his doodling, Mr O’Callaghan wrote at one stage “no invoice — election”.

But when it was put to him by Ms Dillon that he had made a connection between the money paid to Mr Dunlop, the favourable Quarryvale council vote and the local elections, Mr O’Callaghan replied: “Not at all. You are mixing that up completely.”

In a reference to the local elections of 1991, he acknowledged that the merits of his Quarryvale development and another at Blanchardstown, Dublin, had emerged as an issue in the context of the poll and split the Fianna Fáil party at local level.

“There was not very much we could do about it. This was a local government election — a democratic election.”

Mr O’Callaghan said the political contributions issue was never discussed with Mr Dunlop ahead of the 1991 local poll.

Mr O’Callaghan dismissed the idea that the crucial Dublin County Council vote in favour of rezoning Quarryvale for planning purposes had been followed by a big party.

He told the Mahon Tribunal that, in reality, about a dozen people had gathered in a hotel room close to the council headquarters in O’Connell Street in Dublin after the success.

“The celebration — if you could call it that — lasted just over half an hour,” he said.

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