Former PR guru and lobbyist Frank Dunlop is central witness
A joint trial involving six separate legal teams is bound to be a complex matter
Former Fianna Fáil senator and Dublin county councillor Don Lydon, who has pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. Photograph: Collins Courts
Former Fianna Fáil councillor Colm McGrath leaving court, where he pleaded not guilty to charges of alleged corruption. Photograph: Collins Courts
Businessman Jim Kennedy arriving to court, where he pleaded not guilty to corruption charges. Photograph: Collins Courts
Former Fine Gael senator, TD and councillor Liam Cosgrave (56), who pleaded not guilty to corruption charges.
Former Fianna Fáil Dublin county councillor Tony Fox, leaving the Courts of Criminal Justice after he pleaded not guilty in relation to charges of alleged corruption. Photograph: Collins Courts
Some 20 years have passed since the first vote on Dublin County Council took place, a vote which is at the centre of the current trial of a businessman and four councillors.
The witness at the centre of the proceedings before Judge Mary Ellen Ring in Dublin Circuit Criminal Court is Frank Dunlop, former government press secretary and prominent lobbyist around county councils in Dublin.
Mr Dunlop is making his first appearance in public for some years. Now 65, and “involuntarily retired” as he described himself yesterday, the one-time public relations guru and television presenter was more subdued than of old as he delivered himself in the witness box of a now familiar tale of cash payments to councillors in Dublin in the 1990s.
Scattered throughout Court 13 of the Criminal Courts Complex were numerous familiar faces over the years – the four councillors who are accused by Dunlop of receiving corrupt payments, lawyers, and officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau who have been on this case for years.
Businessman Jim Kennedy, who has an address in Gibraltar, sat on his own to one side of the court, away from his family members but close to the stenographer he has specially engaged for the trial.
This is a complex set of proceedings, with one accused, Mr Kennedy, alleged to have put up the money for corrupt payments while the other four accused are alleged to have acted on the other side of the transaction by corruptly taking the cash offered by Mr Dunlop. As a joint trial involving six separate legal teams, it is likely to last for some weeks; already yesterday, Mr Dunlop’s initial evidence was interrupted by legal argument on a number of occasions.
As prosecuting counsel Sean Gillane SC pointed out, at its core, the case is about corruption. The cornerstone of his case is that money was paid in return for votes on rezoning motions at council meetings in Dublin.
All five accused deny the charges, but there are variations in the defences offered by the different councillors.
Former Fianna Fáil senator and councillor Don Lydon denies receiving money from Mr Dunlop and says he was elsewhere at the time he is alleged to have received cash. Former Fine Gael senator and councillor Liam Cosgrave denies corruptly receiving payments from Dunlop, while Tony Fox, once of Fianna Fáil but now an independent councillor in south Dublin, rejects suggestions that he received any money from Mr Dunlop.
Mr Kennedy denies having paid the £25,000 Mr Dunlop says he was given to pay to councillors for the rezoning.
The passage of time is likely to be invoked during the trial. Of the eight councillors Mr Dunlop says he bribed in connection with the rezoning of the land in Carrickmines, south Dublin, four are now dead. Jack Larkin, Cathal Gallagher and Tom Hand all died almost 20 years ago, while Seán Gilbride died in 2011.
Likewise, the first rezoning vote on Dublin County Council took place 20 years ago while the second occurred on Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown Council Council 16 years ago. It is understandable that memories will have dimmed in the interim, although the substance of Mr Dunlop’s allegations have been known for years.
In his early evidence, Mr Dunlop outlined his modus operandi for achieving the rezoning of the Carrickmines land: how he approached Fianna Fáil “stalwarts” for support; how he sought cross-party support by approaching Fine Gael figures; and how, ultimately, he made cash payments to the eight councillors. His evidence continues today.