Mahon ends but leaves €300m bill behind

THE Mahon Tribunal into alleged planning corruption effectively ended after more than 10 years of investigation — and at a likely final cost of €300 million.

Chairman Judge Alan Mahon indicated that a further brief sitting of the investigation might be needed to deal with a single remaining item — but confirmed that the main business of the long-running proceedings was over at last.

The final session heard details of correspondence and other documents formally read into the record by tribunal lawyers but no new witnesses were called.

Judge Mahon made no reference to any report from the inquiry, or a timetable for when it might be published.

The expectation is, however, that the tribunal’s findings — centring on bribery claims by one-time government press secretary Frank Dunlop, as well as allegations by property developer Tom Gilmartin of payments made to a raft of top politicians — will not appear until the spring of next year at the earliest.

The judge called the occasion “something of an unusual day in the life of this tribunal”. He reported a total of 916 public hearing days since the tribunal, established by the Oireachtas in 1997, began in 1998.

After being reconstituted in 2002, following the retirement of former chairman Mr Justice Feargus Flood, the tribunal heard evidence from more than 400 witnesses.

Thanking the witnesses, Judge Mahon acknowledged that giving evidence in such a very public forum was “daunting, stressful and often inconvenient”.

And he said while the tribunal had been able to compel the attendance of individuals, that power had been only rarely utilised.

The judge made no mention of the tribunal’s cost.

But with the inquiry’s own legal bill coming close to €80m, and with third-party accounts still to be submitted, the total is set to reach €300m.

Documentation and letters relating to both former Fianna Fáil TD, the late Liam Lawlor, and his son Niall, were read into the record yesterday.

Judge Mahon said it had been decided on medical grounds that Liam Lawlor’s widow, Hazel, would not be called to give evidence.

The ex-TD, a key figure in evidence connected with a number of the allegations examined by the tribunal, and revealed to have received hundreds of thousands of pounds for planning-linked issues in the 1990s, died in a Moscow car crash three years ago.

He served jail terms in Dublin for contempt of court in relation to evidence he gave to the tribunal.

The investigation judges agreed that correspondence about Niall Lawlor should be entered into the record.

They accepted earlier this year that he would be unable to appear as a witness as he is now based in the US.

The final day also heard of evidence taken in commission for medical reasons from Tim Collins, a friend of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern, in connection with the tribunal’s inquiry into a planned development at Cloghran, near Dublin Airport.

The final moments of the tribunal happened in front of a deserted public gallery.

Judge Mahon said the tribunal could be back at some point next month for the cross-examination of Gerry Carroll, a witness in the inquiry’s probe of developments at Carrickmines, Co Dublin, by former Dublin city and county assistant manager George Redmond.

Judge Mahon said the tribunal also reserved the right to call new evidence or recall witnesses, if necessary.

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