Mahon Report – Corruption at heart of rezoning

As the old saying goes, it’s a long road without a turn, and for Messrs Frank Dunlop, Jim Kennedy, Liam Cosgrave, Don Lydon, Colm McGrath and Tony Fox that fateful bend arrived yesterday when the damning last chapter of the Mahon Tribunal on Planning and Payments was finally published.

Besides accepting evidence that Dunlop — disgraced lobbyist and former Government press spokesman who spent 13 months behind bars for corruption — had made corrupt payments totalling £25,000 on behalf of businessman Jim Kennedy, the report states unequivocally that six councillors received bribes of: £9,000 (Cosgrave, Fine Gael); £7,000 (Fox, Fianna Fáil); £3,000 (Lydon, FF); £2,000 (McGrath, FF); £3,000 (the late Tom Hand, FG); and £1,000 (the late Sean Gilbride, FF).

Coming hard on the heels of the recent dramatic collapse of the Carrickmines corruption trial, caused by the medical condition of Dunlop, chief state witness, the tribunal leaves no doubt that corruption was at the heart of an orchestrated campaign of bribery to get the 100-acre valley rezoned, thus increasing its value enormously.

Mahon underpins suspicions in the public mind that hands were greased. It is ironic that despite denying all allegations of corruption before the court, the defendants should so swiftly be named as having taken bribes. Yet, in the eyes of the law they were deemed innocent once the case collapsed.

Set against a countrywide backdrop of a landscape littered with brown envelopes, the delayed publication of Chapter Nineteen brings an end to Ireland’s longest running and most expensive public inquiry. Its publication was held over when the final report was published last year pending criminal proceedings.

Set up in 1997, the tribunal proved an unwieldy vehicle of investigation, largely because the terms of reference were deliberately made open-ended by the Fianna Fáil government of the day, leaving the murky waters where politics and planning interface even more muddied. Ultimately, controversy over payments led to the resignation of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

The inquiry encountered a plethora of legal obstacles. With highly paid barristers doing the work of accountants, it was a gravy train for members of the legal profession who were laughing all the way to the bank.

Despite the trojan work of the team led by Judge Alan P Mahon, by no stretch of the imagination could the results of this and other tribunals be seen as worth the enormous expense placed on beleaguered taxpayers. In its present form, the tribunal system is far from being cost-effective. Nor could the inordinate length of time it takes to complete probes of this kind be justified.

Though it achieved the purpose for which it was originally set up by identifying corruption in the planning process, a series of public hearings and five reports later the final chapter is produced in a time bubble, putting this affair far beyond the grasp of a generation of young Irish people.

Despite the urgent need for change, it is debatable whether the system has been transformed by shining a spotlight on the murky world of planning. While people hope for a sea change in the planning process, the system is still driven by developers, with all that implies. Corruption in planning has been rife in the past and will be hard to root out in the future.

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