Gogarty sidesteps Redmond, but leaves Cooney on the ropes

 

For a moment, Mr George Redmond almost bumped into his accuser, Mr James Gogarty, as the two men left yesterday's session of the planning tribunal.

"The two of us side by side, wouldn't that make a lovely picture, Jim," Mr Redmond called out bizarrely to his fellow pensioner. It was an invitation the 81-year-old witness was happy to decline as the media posse deserted him in favour of the former assistant Dublin city and county manager. For a man who spent half the weekend under arrest and could face serious criminal charges, the 74-year-old Mr Redmond was surprisingly chipper and chatty. Onlookers mused that he looked like a man from whom a huge burden had been lifted.

Mr Gogarty didn't look badly, either. There was no sign of his ill health of last Friday as he conceded nothing in cross-examination by Mr Garrett Cooney SC, for his former employers, Joseph Murphy Structural Engineering.

In his cross-examination, Mr Cooney continued to probe the differences between Mr Gogarty's account of events and those of other witnesses. But he got little change yesterday from a witness who was at once prickly, trenchant, authoritative and assertive. Questioned on contradictions between his evidence and that of the gardai who investigated his complaints of intimidation and corruption, Mr Gogarty raised a crucial point he omitted last week. This is the fact that the Garda statements were all prepared for the tribunal at the end of last year. They are not contemporaneous accounts of the interviews with Mr Gogarty some years previously. When the chairman, Mr Justice Flood, pointed out that the statements were undated, Mr Cooney railed at him. "It is extraordinary that you should attempt to undermine the accuracy of a statement of a garda." Mr Justice Flood said he hadn't; all he was doing was pointing out that the statements were undated. Mr Cooney said it was "fair to assume" the statements were based on notes the gardai had taken at the time.

But Mr Gogarty said he wanted to see the notes.

Mr Redmond arrived in time to hear his name crop up in relation to an article in the Sunday Tribune in January 1998. This dealt with his alleged visit to Mr Gogarty's house the previous August, shortly after the story of the Burke payments first came to light.

Mr Redmond might have been cheered by the revelation that Mr Gogarty, too, had a bank account in the Isle of Man. As part of his severance deal with Joseph Murphy Structural Engineering, up to £100,000 was deposited in this account from a trust fund in Guernsey. Mr Gogarty said he had declared the money in the tax amnesty and had settled with the Revenue Commissioners.

Mr Cooney's approach is to suggest that the witness is unreliable because he gives different versions of events on different occasions. Yesterday, he tried to give substance to this argument by identifying inaccuracies, discrepancies or omissions in a variety of newspaper articles based on information provided by Mr Gogarty.

Thus he asked: Was the alleged payoff to Mr Burke £1,000 an acre of rezoned land? Or was it £2,000? Why had Mr Connolly never named the six county councillors whom Mr Gogarty alleged were to be paid off for voting for rezoning? Could he explain a reference in one article to two £40,000 cheques being handed over to Mr Burke, when the money was largely in cash, according to his evidence?

The problem for counsel is that these accounts were written by third parties. Mr Gogarty advised Mr Cooney to direct his questions to the journalists. Mr Justice Flood seemed inclined to agree.

It emerged that Mr Gogarty unsuccessfully sought an indemnity against any libels which might arise from the newspapers to which he gave information. Things got worse for Mr Cooney when he queried an assertion in another article that JMSE would not finalise Mr Gogarty's pension arrangements in 1990.

Mr Gogarty agreed that he was the source of this information. He even acknowledged signing a discharge receipt regarding his pension. But that didn't close the matter as far as he was concerned.

"Behind my back, they were doing the dirty with me on the Revenue . . . I was being honourable, I signed a discharge. Then I found they were conspiring with fellow directors, involving me in a conspiracy to defraud the Revenue."

In earlier evidence, Mr Gogarty had explained how the company had sent him P60s in the names of several subsidiary companies of JMSE, but he had returned these because he had never worked for these companies. He interpreted the arrangement as tax evasion.

Whatever the arrangement was, it wasn't particularly happy ground for Mr Cooney. Where the lawyer saw a balance sheet, with monies paid, the witness saw a continuing dispute that kept him awake at night, and eventually led to the alleged threats from Mr Joseph Murphy jnr.

Mr Gogarty's severance package was worth £760,000 but he maintained that "it didn't cost the company a penny" thanks to the extra money he extracted in negotiations with the ESB.

Compared to the weekend's dramatic events, Mr Cooney's concerns about media reporting seemed like small beer. Before Mr Gogarty's cross-examination began yesterday, the tribunal considered Mr Cooney's complaint of last week about a broadcast by Mr Connolly on Today FM.

His colleague, Mr Dan Herbert SC, demanded that witnesses, whether they be journalists or not, should not be allowed give evidence "other than to the tribunal". Journalists should not "distort" the evidence given at the tribunal, he added.

However, Mr Justice Flood had little time for such demands. He quoted from one of his own judgments from 1995 which stressed the importance of the media in publicising the work of the courts. It would not be appropriate to tell Mr Connolly not to comment on proceedings simply because he will be called as a witness to the tribunal, he ruled.

As Mr Gogarty entered the witness box, Mr Cooney politely expressed his hope that the witness was feeling better than he had been last Friday. By the end of a frustrating and fruitless cross-examination, though, Mr Cooney, his head shaking in exasperation, was clearly the worse off of the two men.