When green fields were turned to gold with bribes
For speculators the 1980s and 1990s were all about buying agricultural land and then trying to get it rezoned
Frank Dunlop attending the tribunal. He admitted his involvement in Carrickmines in 1991 was his “first carriage in the train of corrupt practices”. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Remember the dark and sinister 1974 film Chinatown? Roman Polanski’s masterpiece featured Jack Nicholson playing a private detective hired to expose an adulterer who finds himself caught in a web of deceit, corruption and murder.
The sub-plot involved ruthless land baron Noah Cross (played by John Huston) bribing the Los Angeles water services department to divert water to the San Fernando Valley in the middle of the night – not just to irrigate his orange groves but to open up the desert for development.
Bit like what happened in the Carrickmines valley in south Co Dublin, as the Mahon tribunal found.
Or, indeed, like much of what went on in the 1980s and 1990s when green fields were turned into gold, and the county council became “the real estate agency that represents us”, as Nuala Ó Faoláin called it.
For speculators, the name of the game was to purchase (or at least acquire options on) agricultural land with development potential and then set about having it rezoned – thereby massively increasing its value.
If certain councillors needed to be bribed to facilitate this lucrative transformation, so be it.
In the case of Carrickmines, two parcels of land totalling 130 acres – both zoned for agriculture and with poor access – were almost certain to benefit from two major public investments then being planned: a new sewerage scheme and the final leg of the M50 – the South Eastern Motorway as it was then called.
Knowing where the lines of the sewer and motorway were likely to end up was crucial information that any speculator would want to lay his hands on.
And businessman Jim Kennedy, described by one tribunal witness as a “hustler, wheeler-dealer type”, managed to get his hands on the relevant map way back in 1984.
“The tribunal inquired into an allegation that an official of Dublin County Council prepared a map of the Carrickmines lands which contained sensitive and [then] unpublished information relating to the proposed rezoning of those lands...which was then surreptitiously provided to an engineer ...” its report says.
Kennedy told an associate that he had got a “privileged and confidential private map” – so sensitive that it was to be kept “under lock and key”.
The official who provided it subsequently felt “duped”, but, armed with the map, Kennedy proceeded to acquire a 108-acre farm in Carrickmines for £540,000.
“The tribunal was satisfied that the confidential and commercially-sensitive information contained in the map prompted Mr Kennedy and Mr John Caldwell [his solicitor and partner] to complete the purchase of the ... lands, certain in their expectation that the value of the lands would increase enormously when rezoned.”
Others figures such as Dr Austin Darragh, architect Brian O’Halloran and businessman Gerard Kilcoyne, who had bought a smaller parcel of 22 acres next door in the late 1970s, lived in the hope that they would make pots of money when it was rezoned.