Mystery of relationship with developers may never be resolved

 

A number of questions concerning the former taoiseach's dealings remain unanswered, writes Colm Kenna, Public Affairs Correspondent.

HAD HE gone into the witness box to give evidence to the Mahon tribunal, former taoiseach Albert Reynolds would have been asked about an allegation that he was "on the payroll" of developer Owen O'Callaghan in the early 1990s.

There is no dispute over the fact that Reynolds had numerous contacts with O'Callaghan during the period, when the Cork developer was pursuing his Quarryvale project, now the Liffey Valley shopping centre.

Moreover, Reynolds told investment bankers in the US that a proposed football stadium in Neilstown, west Dublin - which was linked to the Quarryvale development - had Government support.

Also, O'Callaghan made political donations totalling £100,000 to Fianna Fáil in 1994, and assisted in the party's fundraising efforts by helping organise a fundraising dinner.

Reynolds and O'Callaghan have rejected the suggestion from O'Callaghan's former business partner, developer Tom Gilmartin, that Reynolds received money from O'Callaghan.

Gilmartin has said at the tribunal that O'Callaghan had told him that the former taoiseach was on his "payroll". He said O'Callaghan had told him he had given £150,000 to Reynolds in March 1994.

Gilmartin said he had been told the money was handed over at 3am in a bedroom in O'Callaghan's Cork home where Reynolds was staying after a dinner party. He said he was told Reynolds had retired early from the dinner because he was being picked up early the next day by helicopter so he could be brought back to Dublin before flying to the US for St Patrick's Day celebrations.

Gilmartin also said he had been told by relatives in the United States and other sources that Reynolds had raised $1 million for Fianna Fáil while in the US but only brought back $70,000.

"Someone said they must have fallen off the plane on the way over and drifted down to the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands," Gilmartin said.

The tribunal has since heard evidence of a party fundraising dinner in the Cork home of businessman Niall Welch on March 11th, 1994, which was attended by Reynolds, O'Callaghan and others.

A substantial amount of money was raised at the dinner. An Air Corps helicopter brought Reynolds to the function from Dublin and returned him to the capital later at 1.30am.

Reynolds was brought to the US on the government jet on March 12th. He visited a number of US cities and came home via Nassau in the Bahamas on March 22nd, 1994.

Brig Gen Ralph James told the tribunal that all the flights were planned, but there was an unscheduled flight to another of the Grand Bahamas - Freeport, from Nassau, at the request of Reynolds.

Reynolds responded to the brigadier general's evidence with a statement to the press in which he said he "never personally handled a halfpenny collected for Fianna Fáil either in the United States or in this country".

Fianna Fáil TD Martin Mansergh, who was on the trip, told the press there was an official visit to the Bahamas during which there was a trip to another island to look at the development of its port there.

Reynolds, had he given evidence, would also most likely have been asked about claims that he put pressure on the then finance minister, Bertie Ahern, in 1994 to grant tax designation to a site in Athlone belonging to O'Callaghan.

Broadcaster Eamon Dunphy has told the tribunal he was told by O'Callaghan that Ahern was "taken care of" in return for the promised designation.

He said he believed from what he was told that despite being "taken care of", Ahern had had to be forced by Reynolds, on the last day of the Fianna Fáil government in December 1994, to introduce the designation.

In fact the designation was granted on the last day of that government by Ahern, in what may have been one of his last acts as minister for finance.