Mahon Report exposes murky trail of planning corruption

The publication of the final chapter of the Mahon Report yesterday shines another light on the corrupt nature of how planning decisions were arrived at, writes Michael Clifford

Mahon Report exposes murky trail of planning corruption

THE publication of the final chapter of the Mahon Report yesterday closes one door on the past, but could open another: In years to come, some bright spark may well design a “corruption” tour of Dublin. It could show the places of note where the future of a city and its million-plus inhabitants was decided in the 1990s.

Functioning democracies deal with these matters in a chamber of elected representatives. The Dunlop Trail, however, would be far more exciting than that.

It starts, quite appropriately, in a quasi dungeon. Yesterday’s report details how Frank Dunlop claims to have been drawn into the world of corruption in Jan 1991. He paid a visit to businessman Jim Kennedy in the basement of the latter’s amusement arcade in Westmoreland St, a stone’s throw from the statue of Daniel O’Connell.

Dunlop described the location as “the basement of the arcade which was accessed via a security kiosk and through a steel door which led downstairs to a basement”. The area consisted of dining area, kitchen, and “a room to the right of the stairs which appeared to be a strong room”.

Therein, fortified from nuclear attack, prying eyes, or the reach of basic morality, Dunlop got down and dirty. The tribunal accepted that Kennedy agreed to give him £25,000 to use as required in bribing councillors to rezone his lot of 108 acres in Carrickmines, South Dublin.

“This was to be his remuneration for the work he was doing, as well as the fund from which he was to make disbursements to councillors,” the report states. A short time later, Kennedy handed over the moolah, “in cellophane bags using Ulster Bank wrappers”.

Dunlop says that in 1990, Liam Lawlor informed him of “the system”, which the lobbyist once described as “pay to play”. If you want councillors to rezone land for the common good, line a few pockets.

One councillor who knew the system was Don Lydon, who also served as a senator. Whatever about basic morality, his views on sexual morality were well known. He frequently gave vent to views that declared Holy Catholic Ireland should be above heathen ways of non-believers and sexual mores should be defined as the Church deigned appropriate.

Lydon’s day job was as a psychologist in St John of God’s Hospital, which caters for patients suffering psychological trauma and addictions. Dunlop says he visited Lydon in the latter’s place of work twice in early May 1992 to sort him out for a few bob.

Lydon rejected this assertion, claiming that Dunlop couldn’t have visited him at the alleged time because he would have been doing his ward rounds. There he was, the politician psychologist, treating the afflicted one moment, fumbling in the greasy till the next.

“The tribunal accepted that at the first of these meetings, Cllr Lydon sought a payment from Mr Dunlop in return for signing the motion, and that at the second meeting he signed the motion and was paid the sum of IR£3,000. The payment of IR£3,000 was corrupt.”

Colm McGrath was another tribune of the people, an elected Fianna Fáil councillor in west Dublin, where many survive at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder. When Dunlop first fessed up to his role in corruption, he dubbed McGrath “Mr Insatiable”, referring to the councillor’s appetite for cash.

In relation to Carrickmines, Dunlop met McGrath at the latter’s office in Clondalkin. McGrath characterised the meeting as follows: “After a few minutes of general conversation, Mr Dunlop shook hands with him, and slapped The Irish Times newspaper on the desk and said, ‘That’s a little something for your election’.”

The only problem is that McGrath accepted the payment was made in Jun 1992, a year after the last election, and seven years before the next one would take place.

“If I formed the opinion that Mr Dunlop was trying to induce my support, I would have thrown it in his face,” McGrath told the tribunal.

The judges didn’t buy Mr Insatiable’s bravado. “This payment of IR£2,000 was corrupt,” they ruled.

So as the people of Clondalkin struggled outside his office with social, and particularly planning, problems, their representative was inside, lining his pockets, selling them down the river.

Tony Fox got one element of his bribe out on the street. Dunlop was so confident of impunity that he slipped Fox the cash as the pair walked between the office of Dublin County Council and Conway’s pub. Tony couldn’t get enough of the cash. When Dunlop first approached him, Fox said: “I will need to look after people.” Principally, and in contravention to the basis on which he stood before the people, the person he was exclusively concerned with looking after was himself.

“The said payments, totalling IR£7,000, were corrupt payments,” the report stated.

Then there was Liam Cosgrave, who could claim lineage back to the State’s founding fathers. At the tribunal, he cut a pathetic figure. Even in the course of Dunlop’s evidence, he emerged as a meekly corrupt politician.

Dunlop described how he met Cosgrave in various locations, including the Dáil, where Cosgrave was serving as a senator. Dunlop wasn’t sure where the cash was handed over. He thought it might be at a meeting they had in Buswell’s Hotel, two days before Christmas 1997, when, Dunlop said, Cosgrave was accompanied by his two young children.

They also met in the Davenport. Here he was, WT Cosgrave’s grandson, traipsing around city centre hotels, organising for his payoff, just as his grandfather had run between similar establishments, fleeing the crown forces, trying to establish a proper democracy for the Irish people.

In total, the tribunal found that Cosgrave had received £9,000 from Dunlop in relation to the Carrickmines rezoning. “These payments were corrupt.”

The Dunlop Trail could take in other venues where democracy was urinated on from a height, but it would have to stop short of crossing the Liffey down by Heuston Station and turning left towards the Criminal Courts of Justice building.

It was there last week that the trial of the four councillors and Kennedy collapsed due to Dunlop’s ill health. Mahon has found as a fact that all were involved in corruption, but all are innocent in the eyes of the law.

Finally, as the sun goes down, the Dunlop Trail might take in the 108 acres at Carrickmines. There’s a motorway there now, and a raft of development. Kennedy is claiming €13m from the local authority for the inconvenience he suffered as a result of the motorway cutting through his land. The tribunal found that he bought the land in the first place after learning of the proposed motorway route.

He is also facing a legal action with the Criminal Assets Bureau which has frozen some of the land asset on the basis that its huge increase in value was due to corruption.

In the end, all roads lead to the Four Courts, while the common good, on which planning was supposed to be based, is quite often reduced to whistling.

Mahon Tribunal

*Number of years in existence — 16

*Number of people convicted of planning corruption — 1

*Number of sittings — 917

*Number of witnesses — 595

*Cost — €250m (estimate)

*Tax recovered by Revenue and Criminal Assets Bureau as a result of tribunal’s work — €51.2m

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