Barrister with a crusading brief turns to politics

 

Barrister Colm Mac Eochaidh is not a particularly well-known figure, but in the seven years since he returned to Ireland from a period living abroad, he has made a significant impact on Irish political life.

In 1995 he and his friend Michael Smith put up a £10,000 reward for information leading to convictions for planning corruption. That triggered a sequence of events that led to the establishment of the Flood tribunal.

The following year Mr Smith set up Lancefort, a company that opposed planning permissions for a number of prominent developments. Mr Mac Eochaidh represented Lancefort in several court actions, the most high-profile being its objections to Treasury Holdings' plans - now proceeding - for a hotel at Westmoreland Street/Trinity Street.

Mr Mac Eochaidh, aged 37, and Mr Smith met as law students at UCD in the early 1980s. There they also met Mr Kevin Neary, a principal in the Newry law firm Donnelly Neary & Donnelly, through which the £10,000 reward was offered.

After several failed Garda inquiries and a number of newspaper reports of extensive planning corruption, the reward offer finally struck gold. Among the people who contacted the Newry firm was Mr James Gogarty, whose allegations concerning payments to Mr Ray Burke - leaked to newspapers over two years - led to the establishment of the Flood tribunal.

Those who know him say Mr Mac Eochaidh is a true political crusader, tackling issues and opponents head-on, fired by an unshakeable belief in the righteousness of his actions.

The son of a civil servant, Mr Mac Eochaidh was brought up in Blackrock, Co Dublin. He was educated through Irish, attending the nearby primary school Scoil Lorcain and secondary school Colaiste Eoin. He obtained a law degree at UCD and studied for the Bar at King's Inns, Dublin.

Before qualifying as a barrister he took a year out from his studies to work with a law firm in California. When finished in King's Inns he worked with the European Commission for a year. He then worked as an international officer with the Law Society of England and Wales, first in London and later in Brussels.

He finally started practising at the Bar in 1993 at the age of 30. About half his work is now in environmental and planning law. He represented Orla Ni Eili in her action against the waste incinerator outside Ennis, Co Clare; he acted for the Glen of the Downs protesters; and for Micheal O Nuallain, who objected to the O'Connell Street spire.

Unusually, he tends to pick and choose among cases. He typically takes what he sees as public interest cases for which he is not always paid on the usual commercial basis.

He is now turning his campaigning zeal to the idea of a new political party. He is understood to be preparing policy documents on transport, education and housing. The calibre and profile of candidates who would run for any new party will be crucial to its success.