A system that ‘made the Mafia look like monks’
The corruption endemic in our system is clear from the fate of developer and whistleblower Tom Gilmartin
Tom Gilmartin leaving the Mahon Tribunal at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Matt Kavanagh
Tom Gilmartin: The Man Who Brought Down a Taoiseach and Exposed the Greed and Corruption at the Heart of Irish Politics
Gill & Macmillan
Tom Gilmartin came to know very well how troublesome it can be to tell the truth. Just like the Garda whistleblowers, but in a different context, he was isolated, abused and vilified for spilling the beans on a coterie of corrupt politicians, officials, bankers and bagmen, who “make the f***ing Mafia look like monks”.
Born in Sligo, Gilmartin had spent most of his working life in England, doing very well for himself in the engineering sector, and he felt for the often destitute young Irish emigrants, fleeing the hopelessness of Ireland in the 1980s, whom he saw on the streets of London. And, being the man he was, he wanted to help out.
I spoke only once to Gilmartin, by telephone to his home in Luton, to ask him about allegations doing the rounds in 1991 that he was the victim of men in power “tapping” him for money. Maybe it was all too sensitive, but he denied it then and said his only interest in Ireland was to “end the human cargo” of emigration.
With some property experience under his belt, he had ambitious plans to develop two sites in Dublin, at Bachelors Walk, in the city centre, and Quarryvale, on the western outskirts, where the N4 would meet the yet-to-be-built M50. He was gobsmacked to discover that nearly everyone he met wanted some bung or other.
If he didn’t pay he would “go nowhere”, as the notoriously corrupt Liam Lawlor warned him at the time. Lawlor, dubbed Mr Big, had turned politics into a business, with a clear eye on enriching himself. As Frank Connolly writes, he had no fewer than 110 bank accounts in several jurisdictions to sink his ill-gotten gains.
Insatiable for money, Lawlor kept turning up unannounced at crucial meetings, either to help things along or to hinder them, depending on how he was being looked after. So it’s no wonder that the packed audience at the Mahon tribunal laughed out loud when Gilmartin recalled Charlie Haughey asking “if Liam was taking good care of me”.
Everyone who remembers the tribunal’s revelations about what went on during those lean years will be familiar with the recitation of events in this book, largely told from Gilmartin’s viewpoint. Only those who were incommunicado in some other part of the world, unaware even of the basic outline, would be shocked by Connolly’s account.
Inevitably, he relies extensively on evidence given to the tribunal by Gilmartin and a long cast of characters, culminating in appearances by Bertie Ahern, who was still taoiseach at the time. Even though the tribunal could not link the “dig out” monies he received to the Quarryvale saga, his appearance at the tribunal finished his long political career.