50 councillors to give tribunal evidence

 

Up to 50 Dublin county councillors are expected to give evidence to the planning tribunal over claims that they got political contributions from a company involved in a controversial rezoning in the Carrickmines Valley.

After Easter, the tribunal plans to start new hearings into the rezoning of Monarch Properties' lands at Cherrywood for housing and industrial uses in the early 1990s. The change, which was fiercely contested by local residents, was regarded as the most controversial rezoning to go through Dublin County Council, after Quarryvale.

It was concern over this rezoning that prompted a local barrister, Michael Smith, and a colleague, Colm MacEochaidh, to offer a £10,000 reward for information on alleged planning corruption.

This initiative led indirectly to the setting up of the tribunal.

Monarch has told the tribunal it lobbied virtually every member of the council and made political donations to more than half its 78 members. The politicians are expected to say the contributions were for election expenses and did not influence their vote.

Former government press secretary Frank Dunlop, who was also employed by the company to lobby councillors, says he was paid £25,000 for his work. He alleges he paid £2,000 each to Fianna Fáil councillors Tony Fox and Colm McGrath to support the rezoning motion; the two men deny this claim.

The new module is expected to reveal further examples of "amnesia" over political donations by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians, only 11 of whom disclosed contributions from Monarch to their respective party inquiries in 2000.

Senator Don Lydon has already admitted to the tribunal he failed to disclose a £2,500 donation from Monarch in 1992.

Mr Dunlop was brought into the project in 1992 after Monarch ran into difficulties with its own lobbying efforts. The company spent up to £800,000 on its campaign, which included the production of local newsletters and television advertisements.

The tribunal will also be examining the role of the late Fianna Fáil TD Liam Lawlor, who introduced Mr Dunlop to the project and liaised closely with the company's founder, Phil Monahan.

The tribunal is also investigating Mr Monahan's success in getting urban renewal status for The Square in Tallaght in the late 1980s. This decision, taken by former minister for the environment Pádraig Flynn, turned the Dundalk-born former mechanic into a multi-millionaire. Mr Monahan died in 2003.

Mr Lydon told his party inquiry he got £400 to £500 in 1991 and 1999 and £1,000 in 1993 and 1997 from Monarch. Charlie O'Connor TD got £450 in 1992 and 1999, Jim Barry £1,000 in 1991 and John Hannon £300 in 1992.

Seán Barrett told the Fine Gael inquiry he got £600 in 1991 for his local organisation. Liam Cosgrave got £500 and £1,000 in 1997 and £500 in 1999, Michael Joe Cosgrave £500 in 1992, Nora Owen £1,000 in 1997 and Therese Ridge got less than £500. William Dockrell said he got £500 from Richard Lynn of Monarch.

Monarch paid £11 million for 234 acres of land at Cherrywood in 1989. Residents argued that the Carrickmines Valley was largely unspoilt and that the development would bring the city's suburbs ever closer to the Dublin mountains.

A proposed draft rezoning to four houses an acre agreed in 1991 was rescinded to one house an acre. It was not until November 1993, after Mr Dunlop had been engaged, that the council voted to rezone 150 acres of the land for low-density housing and 15 acres for a district centre.

Afterwards, supportive councillors adjourned to Conways pub for a celebratory drink, with the bill footed by Monarch.

In later votes, Dún Laoghaire/ Rathdown County Council voted to rezone the remaining land for housing and a science park and to increase the density of housing allowed.