After 16-year planning tribunal inquiry, few punished for corruption
Analysis: all that’s left now is for the taxpayer to pay the legal bill
“The shortcomings of our processes for investigating corruption are all too obvious today following the release of this chapter and last week’s collapse of the corruption trial because of the illness of former lobbyist Frank Dunlop.” Photograph: Collins Courts.
The publication yesterday of the “missing chapter” from the planning tribunal’s final report represents the final act of an inquiry that started 16 years ago and is likely to cost more than €300 million. All that’s left now is for the taxpayer to pay the legal bills.
The shortcomings of our processes for investigating corruption are all too obvious today following the release of this chapter and last week’s collapse of the corruption trial because of the illness of former lobbyist Frank Dunlop.
In summary, the experience of the last two decades would appear to show we are good on censure but weak on meaningful follow-up in the form of successful criminal prosecutions.
At the end of it all, the answer to the question many people asked on learning of the extent of corruption in Dublin planning in the 1980s and 1990s – “Will anyone go to jail for this?” – is a curt “hardly anyone”.
After all the media revelations, official investigations and trials, the list of those jailed is but two names long: Dunlop, who confessed to his involvement in corruption, and former Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke, who spent 4½ months in prison for making false tax returns.
The former Dublin assistant county manager George Redmond, who features again in the chapter published yesterday, had his conviction quashed after spending time in prison. The late Fianna Fáil TD Liam Lawlor also ended up behind bars, not because he was found to be corrupt, but because he was in contempt of court.
It’s not a situation conducive to the elimination of the “culture of impunity” that prevailed during the worst era of planning abuses in Dublin. Those at the centre of the web of corruption that operated on the county council at this time felt they were invincible and while some have paid the price of adverse publicity, many would argue that those involved have not paid a sufficient price for their wrongdoing.
Add to this the questionable situation – forced on the tribunal by a decision of the Supreme Court – whereby some of those who were found to be involved in corruption will still have their multi-million legal costs paid by an impoverished State and one can understand the level of public anger on the issue.
The land at Carrickmines which was the subject of the tribunal’s report perfectly illustrates the role of rezoning in making massive windfall profits for landowners. The Jackson Way land was zoned for agriculture, had poor access and was in the line for the M50 motorway, yet by dint of rezoning it ended up as a highly valuable property.