MICHAEL CLIFFORD: Honourable Gilmartin deserves apology

Since the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report, there has been much breast beating about corruption. Politicians have lined up to decry how planning was debased by corrupt councillors.

Since the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report, there has been much breast beating about corruption. Politicians have lined up to decry how planning was debased by corrupt councillors. There have been promises that change is on the way. Over three days the report was debated in the Dáil. Yet practically nobody has stated that which screams out from the report: Tom Gilmartin was done a grievous wrong by elected politicians, and at least one public official, who represented themselves as agents of the State. And when the gardaí were called in to investigate what had befallen him, they willfully failed in their duty to protect all citizens.

Gilmartin is an unlikely victim. His son, Thomas, has been in the media over the last week portraying the old man as somebody who had arrived back in this country in the mid-1980s intent on stemming the tide of immigration to which he himself had been subjected. Gilmartin Jr has also claimed that his father was concerned with the interests of local people when he attempted to develop the Quarryvale site in west Dublin. The picture painted is one of an altruistic businessman more concerned with the “common good” than making money.

The evidence disputes this portrayal. Gilmartin was primarily a businessman intent on turning a buck. There is nothing wrong with that. Business makes the world go round. Much of the evidence uncovered and testimony heard by the tribunal suggests he was an honest man who valued honour.

However, the manner in which he was treated when he arrived in Dublin with his big plans was indicative of a tinpot dictatorship in some underdeveloped corner of the world.

Today, at a time when inward investment is badly needed, special laws have been enacted to entice investors. The Finance Bill just passed by the Dáil includes a provision for major tax relief for executives of companies coming in to invest in the country. The provisions are so generous that concern was expressed by the Revenue Commissioners about unfairness.

In the mid-1980s, at a time when inward investment was very badly needed, Gilmartin arrived. Far from being greeted with fawning tax concessions, he was regarded in some quarters as a walking, talking ATM machine, who would spew out bundles of cash on demand. Rather than woo him, a number of high standing people erected roadblocks, which would only be dismantled on receipt of extortionate demands.

Mahon largely accepted his accounts of the list of extortionate demands to which he was subjected. First up was TD Liam Lawlor. Gilmartin was introduced to Lawlor in 1988 as a man who might be able to help him in attempting to develop the Quarryvale site (which ultimately became Liffey Valley Shopping Centre). Weeks later, Lawlor barged in uninvited on a London meeting between Gilmartin and his British partners, Arlington.

The TD demanded a fee, said he had been appointed by the Government to look after the projects Gilmartin was trying to get off the ground.

Arlington executives instructed Gilmartin to pay Lawlor £3,500 per month. This persisted for nearly six months. A separate payment of £33,000 was also paid to Lawlor. Twice Lawlor demanded of Gilmartin that he hand over half of his 20% stake in the developments.

On one occasion that year, Lawlor entered Gilmartin’s AIB branch in Blanchardstown and demanded that he be paid £10,000 from Gilmartin’s account.

The TD introduced the developer to George Redmond, Dublin city and county assistant manager. Then Lawlor demanded £200,000, to be split between himself and Redmond.

Gimartin didn’t hand over the cash and was then metaphorically slapped around. When he was buying up land in Quarryvale, Redmond tipped off another developer who began to bid in order to jack up the price. In the end, Gilmartin paid £70,000 an acre when he had been paying £40,000.

Finbar Hanrahan, a two-bit Fianna Fáil councillor, was introduced to Gilmartin. He demanded £100,000 for his vote to rezone Quarryvale.

The following year Gilmartin was introduced to most of the Cabinet, which at that time included Charlie Haughey, Pádraig Flynn, Ray Burke, and Bertie Ahern. At a meeting in Leinster House in Feb 1989 — which nobody but Gilmartin and Mary O’Rourke could remember — most of the Cabinet met this businessman who was going to transform west Dublin. We now know that three men in that room — Haughey, Flynn, and Burke — took corrupt payments.

As Gilmartin left the room he was approached by a man who gave him a piece of paper with bank account details and told him to put £5m into the offshore account if he wanted to succeed at his project.

“You people make the mafia look like monks,” Gilmartin told the unidentified person.

The demands were reported to the cops through no less a personage than the then minister for the environment, Pádraig Flynn. Mahon reports that the Garda investigation was feeble and disinterested. Then, with the investigation out of the way, Flynn told Gilmartin a contribution to the party would dismantle the roadblocks. The corrupt politician trousered the 50-grand donation for himself.

There was an underlying current to the contempt shown for Gilmartin. He was an immigrant, one of the millions who were coughed out of a country that simply couldn’t keep all its citizens. Like legions of others, he was forced to take the boat because he was not among the chosen few who had corralled the scant opportunity which existed.

He was of typical small farmer stock from the West of Ireland. He was of the majority who were disenfranchised for no other reason than the accident of birth. And like others, he would prove himself in a society where intelligence and hard work were rewarded with opportunity. He was entitled to believe that the same rules would apply when he returned home after 30 years, armed with his experience and investment.

Redmond, Lawlor, Flynn, Hanrahan; these were not men of substance, but operators who knew how to work the system. They had survived and even prospered in a society where chancers were pushed to the top of the class and hard neck substituted for hard work.

Their ilk viewed the likes of Gilmartin as somebody to exploit, rather than cultivate. He was seen for what could be wrung out of him rather than what he had to offer the national economy.

And each of these men presented themselves as representatives of the State. Would they have been as blatantly extortionate towards an investor from another country, or did they reserve their greatest contempt for one of their own?

Gilmartin’s son has said that his father is owed a debt by the State. He is that and more. He is entitled to an apology. He is entitled to have one read out in the Dáil by Enda Kenny on behalf of the Irish people. What was visited on him was an indictment on a whole way of life, and that it was a native son who bore the worst brunt of that culture should be a matter of deep shame.


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