Gilmartin’s critics might be wiser to keep their opinions to themselves

LISTENING to some of the attacks on Mr Justice Alan Mahon over his handling of Tom Gilmartin reminds me of the story of Friedrich Riesfeldt, 46, of Paderborn, Germany, a highly conscientious zookeeper who cared passionately about his animals.

When Stefan, a large African elephant, seemed out of sorts, Friedrich concluded the animal was constipated.

The zookeeper conscientiously sought a remedy, but his early ministrations were unsuccessful. On Thursday, April 23, 1998, he fed Stefan 22 doses of animal laxative, along with more than a bushel of prunes, berries and figs. But still nothing happened. He told assistant zookeeper Kurt Herrman he was going to give the elephant an olive oil enema that evening. Herrman offered to help, but Riesfeldt sent him home as he had everything under control.

A couple of hours later the night watchman, Walter Pleuger, came on a horrifying scene. Riesfeldt lay dead under 200lbs of elephant dung.

Paderborn police detective Erik Dern later explained what had apparently happened. As the zookeeper was administering the enema, the elephant suddenly evacuated. The sheer force of the abrupt defecation knocked Riesfeldt from his perch and he banged his head on the ground and was rendered unconscious. He was then buried in the ensuing flow of elephant dung.

“With no one there to help him, he lay under all that dung for at least an hour before a watchman came along, and during that time he suffocated,” according to Detective Dern. “He should not have attempted to give the elephant an enema on his own.”

Friedrich Riesfeldt’s story is told on more than 3,000 sites on the internet, according to Google. Many tell it as a true story, but it is actually an urban legend, or just a figment of someone’s creative imagination.

The Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments, or what we now call the Mahon Tribunal, reminds me of a constipated elephant. It has been gathering information for the past 10 years, but it has not passed on most of its more recent material.

When people look back on this tribunal, two of the more outstanding witnesses will undoubtedly be James Gogarty and Tom Gilmartin. Gogarty was a headstrong, difficult individual, and Gilmartin may be the same. In the end, Gogarty was largely believed. He was certainly more believed than those who were trying to undermine his testimony. Most important, Judge Feargus Flood believed him, and Ray Burke eventually went to jail. Forty years ago last month, George Colley famously complained about ‘low standards in high places’. Since then Fianna Fáil has been bumbled from one scandal to another involving building contractors without ever resolving any of them.

In 1997, when the Appeals Commissioners ruled that Charles Haughey did not have a tax liability on the money given to him by Ben Dunne, Tom Gilmartin was so incensed that he announced he was not going to testify at the tribunal because Irish politics were so corrupt.

He was outside the jurisdiction and could not therefore be compelled to testify.

Pádraig Flynn then went on the Late Late Show and put both feet in his mouth. That was the night he talked about the difficulty of running three houses — one in Mayo, another in Dublin and a third in Brussels.

But he did the real damage when he dismissed Gilmartin as if he were some kind of nutcase.

“He’s not well, you know,” Flynn told Gay Byrne. “And his wife’s not well.”

That did it. Gilmartin blew a proverbial fuse and announced that he would testify after all. The story he told about giving £50,000 to Flynn effectively destroyed the Mayoman’s political career at both the European and national levels. Since then Flynn has become a figure of ridicule, but for some reason Bertie Ahern has gone out of his way to accord Flynn’s daughter a national profile as a serious politician.

Gilmartin testified that he complained to Bertie Ahern as early as 1989 that he had given the £50,000 to Pádraig Flynn for Fianna Fáil, but it would be years before anyone in Fianna Fáil questioned Flynn about that money.

Lately some people have been treating Gilmartin with the kind of contempt that Flynn exhibited on the Late Late Show. Some of the stories that Gilmartin has told, or repeated, might suggest he had some kind of paranoia about Owen O’Callaghan.

Was there any reason for people telling him such stories? Were they trying to get him to believe that massive kickbacks were the way to get ahead in construction in Ireland? That might explain why he was asked for £5 million for Fianna Fáil on one occasion and £500,000 for Bertie Ahern at another time. Bertie did not deny that Gilmartin might have called him in 1989.

He just said he could not remember any such call, which suggests that, as party treasurer, he might just have forgotten about an allegation that a colleague misappropriated £50,000 of party funds. We know Bertie was informed about money given to Ray Burke in relatively similar circumstances. And he just went off looking up trees. God only knows what he was looking for, but he wasn’t looking very hard for the truth. We also know he facilitated Charles Haughey by signing blank cheques on the party leader’s fund.

After Feargus Flood retired, Flynn was called to testify before Alan Mahon about the £50,000 that Gilmartin gave him.

Flynn said he then gave the money to his wife who deposited it in a non-resident account held in their joint names. He said he did not know about that account even though he had signed the application for it, using which used the address of a property owned by his wife in Chiswick, London.

The Flynn’s actually had three non-resident accounts, totalling £155,278.

WHEN Flynn complained on the Late Late Show about the difficulty of running houses in Mayo, Dublin and Brussels, he must have forgotten about the place in London. Of course, he said the London property was his wife’s. When he handed over the £50,000 cheque, was that a case of what was his was hers and what was hers was her own? Sure he was confused, with all the property and all those bank accounts. Poor Pádraig, indeed!

Tom Gilmartin’s credibility has been under intense attack, but he was not saying he gave Bertie any money. He said Owen O’Callaghan told him he gave Bertie 50,000. Maybe we might think it would require a dose of gullibility to believe that somebody would just hand over so much money, but Gilmartin handed over a similar amount to Flynn. So it is understandable that Gilmartin would believe the story O’Callaghan allegedly told him. We also know that after Bertie got the infamous ‘dig out’ from his friends in Manchester, he opened a bank account with a deposit of £50,000 that was unconnected with the Manchester money. In dealing with Gilmartin’s credibility, the issue is not where Bertie got that £50,000, but whether Owen O’Callaghan told Gilmartin that he gave £50,000 to Bertie.

It is improbable at this stage that anybody will come up with a secret recording of the conversation, so you have to choose between Tom Gilmartin’s assertion and Owen O’Callaghan’s denial. It would make a big difference to Gilmartin’s credibility, however, if a credible witness testifies that O’Callaghan told him the same story. Then the focus of attention would turn to why O’Callaghan told that story? And then the elephant might do his thing.

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