An expertly cast bag man and master of ‘the system’

In any movie involving dodgy payments to politicians, you need a go-between, a “bag man”. Frank Dunlop came right out of central casting.

The former lobbyist’s name pops up everywhere in the Mahon Report and such is his pivotal role in the events outlined in its pages, an entire chapter is dedicated to him. He was the spoke in the wheel — everything and everyone appeared to revolve around him — and even the FBI couldn’t quite get his measure.

Investigators from the bureau were drafted in to decipher diary entries — including those thought to relate to dealings between Dunlop and property developer Owen O’Callaghan and another entry linked to Liam Lawlor he had attempted to “obliterate”. His explanations for the interfering with diary entries given to the tribunal were “distinctly evasive, vague and unsatisfactory”, including his claims he had merely been “doodling”. It was just one of the damning findings in the report relating to Dunlop.

He first came to the tribunal’s attention in 1998 when Tom Gilmartin referred to him as “a major bag man for cash payments to Fianna Fáil”.

It was the start of a long and winding road. Dunlop was brought to the witness stand via a summons, having declined a private interview with the tribunal. Details of numerous bank accounts, including one in Jersey, and cash withdrawals linked to zoning motions, emerged but were denied or explained away. In Apr 2000, he wanted to portray himself as a witness who acknowledged the role he played in making and receiving payments but who named individuals as having been involved in wrongful activity with him.

True to his chimerical image, even this was not what it seemed. Dunlop said he was “crossing the Rubicon” but the report begs to differ: “Regretfully, Mr Dunlop did not make the transition from being an untruthful witness to a truthful witness with any sense of completeness.”

It finds that after Apr 2000 he continued to “actively and purposely mislead the tribunal”.

Items on his rap sheet include trying to conceal or obliterate information in his diaries, preparing statements to the tribunal in 2003 with the aid of Cllr MJ Cosgrave and Cllr Liam Creaven (dismissed by Dunlop as “three old fogeys enjoying themselves”), and “perhaps most significantly, his contention that Mr O’Callaghan was, to his knowledge, unaware of his corrupt activity in paying money to councillors in relation to Quarryvale whereas, as found by the tribunal, the opposite was the case”.

The tribunal approached with “extreme caution”. It found from the outset, he wanted to protect the interests of certain parties, particularly Mr O’Callaghan, in the Quarryvale Inquiry.

Moreover, in many cases in the course of his lobbying for rezoning, he was pushing an open door. According to the report “only rarely, if ever, did Mr Dunlop have to comprehensively brief councillors as to the merits [in planning or community terms] of a particular proposal [to persuade] them to support that proposal. In reality, the money did the talking.”

This was, in Dunlop’s own words, “the system” — essentially, votes for cash. He told the tribunal: “The money was requested. I did not invent the system.”

Maybe not, but nobody played it better.

Frank Dunlop: Key findings

* Dunlop made corrupt payments totalling at least £65,000 to councillors in and around the 1991 local elections for the purposes of securing their support for the rezoning of the Quarryvale lands. Other monies paid into the accounts of Shefran, Dunlop’s company, were used to secure support for the Baldoyle rezoning project.

* Among those paid sums of money by Dunlop in transactions described by the tribunal as corrupt were councillor and TD GV Wright, councillor and TD Liam Lawlor, Cllr Liam T Cosgrave, Cllr Pat Dunne, Cllr Sean Glibride, Cllr Tom Hand, Cllr Tony Fox, Cllr Don Lydon, and Cllr Colm McGrath.

* Between Sept 1989 and Sept 1993 Dunlop had a minimum sum of more than £535,500 for the purposes of making disbursements to politicians and probably more money at other times.

* One or more politicians were “almost certainly” the beneficiaries of the £25,000 paid to Dunlop by O’Callaghan in Sept 1993, ostensibly for work done by Dunlop in relation to the Neilstown Stadium project.

* The tribunal believes that £300,000 paid by O’Callaghan to Dunlop in Oct 1998 was the result of a request from Dunlop “in the context of the inquiries he anticipated the tribunal would make of him”.

* Dunlop attempted to conceal information from the tribunal by first redacting then obliterating diary entries.


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