O’Callaghan project faced ‘disaster’ in election fallout

PROPERTY developer Owen O’Callaghan recalled the disaster that faced his massive building project for land in Co Dublin after local election results 17 years ago.

Fianna Fáil was devastated in the poll with 14 supporters of the Cork businessman’s plans for Quarryvale — now the location of the Liffey Valley shopping complex — failing to keep their seats on Dublin County Council.

The party’s majority evaporated at the same time. And, just a month after a vital council vote to rezone Quarryvale for planning purposes, the Fianna Fáil representatives were replaced by “unknown quantities” from a range of other political parties.

Soon after the election, former government press secretary Frank Dunlop — by then a consultant on Quarryvale — told Mr O’Callaghan that while the new situation was not good “it is not as bad as you might think”.

But Mr O’Callaghan told the Mahon tribunal: “It was very bad for Quarryvale, there is no doubt about that.”

He also accepted the June 1991 elections had amounted to “a disaster”, and that he had been “a bit optimistic” about the position for his development plans when he spoke to his bank, AIB, and forecast success on the rezoning front in the wake of the local polling.

And, as far as the make up of the new county was concerned, the whole game plan had changed radically. The promoters of the project backers had been forced “to speak to more people, to the newer people”.

As well as the post-election situation, there had been fresh competition for development from nearby Blanchardstown and intensifying rivalry from the Green Property group, Mr O’Callaghan recalled.

The developer has denied all knowledge of Mr Dunlop’s claims that over a period of years he handed over tens of thousands of pounds in bribes to members of Dublin County Council to ensure their support for planning issues brought before the local authority.

He has also rejected claims made by one-time Quarryvale partner and subsequent bitter rival Tom Gilmartin that he paid a total of £80,000 to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in relation to planning matters.

The two developers fell out when, after the pair signed a new agreement, Mr Gilmartin claimed that Mr O’Callaghan had been left with a greater share in Quarryvale.

He agreed that he had not told the AIB about a £10,000 political contribution he made to former Fianna Fáil TD and county councillor Liam Lawlor, declaring he regarded such payments as private. “I do not broadcast such things,” he said.

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