'Ireland owes my father a debt of gratitude for doing what he has done'
OPINION:THE MAHON tribunal report has come as a nearly complete vindication of my father, Tom Gilmartin. Without my father, Ireland would never have found out about the corrupt activities of people like Frank Dunlop, nor the existence of a corruption ring at the heart of planning in Ireland.
It is due to my father that the tribunal discovered that Bertie Ahern had huge amounts of money going through his accounts for which his explanations do not hold water.
My father led the tribunal to perhaps its biggest success – it was he who, in early 1998, told the tribunal about his suspicion Dunlop was being used as a “bagman” for corrupt payments to politicians.
He showed it accounts which included payments to a company called “Shefran Ltd” – whose very purpose was to hide the scale and purpose of the large round-figure, VAT-free, invoice-free payments being made to Dunlop.
My father openly demanded, in front of witnesses, to know what the purpose of Shefran Ltd was, and he was not told precisely because it was known my father had complained vociferously about corruption several times.
When the tribunal contacted my father in 1998, he immediately told it what he believed, but could never prove, had been going on.
We now know that Dunlop, contrary to the dominant narrative, did not have a Pauline conversion to the truth in April 2000. He continued to cover for developers and senior politicians.
My father’s allegation about what he was told about payments from Owen O’Callaghan to Ahern has also been found to be true.
The report agrees that O’Callaghan did tell my father that he had paid Ahern, but it couldn’t, because of Ahern’s untruthful evidence, establish whether the payment took place – it could neither prove nor disprove it. My father was telling the truth all along.
My father was brought to the attention of the tribunal by a Garda report in 1989 which included a number of allegations, now found to be true, that the Garda then dismissed without even interviewing several of the main witnesses.
It was admitted at the tribunal that Liam Lawlor was probably not interviewed because he was a TD. My father received a phone call during the investigation from someone purporting to be a garda who told him to “f--k off back to England”.
The tribunal found that the phone call did happen and that its purpose was to intimidate my father into keeping quiet. He was told in that call that he should not be making allegations against decent men (such as Liam Lawlor and George Redmond), that their names would emerge “unsullied”.
The tribunal found that my father was indeed, contrary to the evidence given by a long line of former ministers (except Mary O’Rourke), at an informal meeting with Charles Haughey and other ministers at Leinster House in February 1989.
It also agreed that he was subjected to a demand for £5 million immediately outside the room in which that meeting took place and threatened when he refused to pay.
Here is a man who was honestly motivated (and this is mocked by some commentators – but he could have stayed and made money in England where he was already successful) by a desire to try and provide jobs in Ireland being threatened inside the national parliament for refusing to pay up.
George Redmond, then assistant city and county manager, on the payroll of a rival company, was deliberately obstructing my father’s plans because my father had refused to pay him or Lawlor.
The rival company was tipped off by Redmond about a land deal my father was completing so it could intervene and try to take the land off him. Meetings between my father’s team from England and Northern Ireland and the city’s road engineers were cancelled at the last minute by Redmond, without telling the city engineers.
Then, when rearranged, the meetings were obstructed and made tense by Redmond. Lawlor turned up at another meeting between my father and potential investors to tell them that west Dublin was “mad dog country”, successfully ending any interest the investors had.
It was against this background that my father gave £50,000 to Fianna Fáil, via the then minister for the environment, Pádraig Flynn. My father had complained to Dublin Corporation about the corruption he was encountering. He had complained to government ministers Pádraig Flynn and Bertie Ahern. He had complained to the Garda. Nothing was done.
A number of politicians suggested his problems might stop if he made a donation to the party, that the party could then rein in Redmond and Lawlor. He had refused to do so several times but finally relented in desperation when he realised no one, not even the police force, would help.
The tribunal established that Flynn took the money despite the money being clearly intended for Fianna Fáil. We know it was intended for Fianna Fáil because my father had told several people within months, including Ahern, that he had already made a donation to the party when it asked him for one.
The tribunal also established that Flynn’s asking for and taking the money was corrupt, but did not find that the giving was corrupt. It recognised that it was only given to Fianna Fáil under duress.
It was extreme duress. It has been wrongly (and sometimes deliberately) said or implied that it was a bribe on my father’s part. It was no such thing. It was blackmail by an utterly corrupt political establishment.
The rezoning of Quarryvale, contrary to the dominant perception, was utterly necessary.
The original town centre site at Neilstown was badly designed, badly located and poorly accessed. It was not a choice between Quarryvale and Neilstown, it was a choice between Quarryvale and nothing.
What exists at Quarryvale today, however, bears absolutely no relation to what my father had planned. The local people have been completely overlooked. The enduring victims of the corruption that infested Ireland during that period are the people who have to live in places where they have been sidelined and left to rot.
My father has been through a huge trauma. His period trying to do business in Ireland was despicable enough in the treatment he received at the hands of the officials, politicians and police of this country. He had no need to come to Ireland. He was already very successful in England, but he hoped to do something to help Ireland – he thought that he could create jobs to stop young people having to emigrate like he did at a time Ireland was on its knees economically.
Then, when he came back to give evidence, he was not only disbelieved, he was put through a sustained and systematic process of vilification and ridicule by politicians up to and including the taoiseach and his cabinet, and also by prominent journalists and commentators.
His evidence made possible the exposure of a litany of corruption that would never have been exposed otherwise. Ireland owes my father a debt of gratitude for doing what he has done. He is owed an apology by the State and by certain parts of the political and media establishment for what was done to him.