Planning tribunal marked by two distinct phases

Many of those originally named in report used legal route to have their names deleted

Mr Justice Alan Mahon: has long since returned to spending most of his time in the courts. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill .

Mr Justice Alan Mahon: has long since returned to spending most of his time in the courts. Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill .

 

On the lines of the old football cliché, the planning tribunal was a game of two halves.

The first, the years from 1997 to 2002, covered its start-up period and its investigations into former Fianna Fáil minister Ray Burke and planning official George Redmond. The inquiry was headed by Mr Justice Fergus Flood and spent a lot of time doing behind-the-scenes investigations of planning corruption.

The second half, from 2003 onwards, saw the retirement of Mr Justice Flood and his replacement by three “members”. This period was dominated by the investigations into former lobbyist Frank Dunlop and the former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

As the dust settles on yet another bad day in court for the tribunal, most of that first half of the game has effectively been wiped from history.

True, the name of Burke, who received massive payments from builders and developers in the late 1980s, still appears in what remains of the tribunal report from that era. It plainly states that Burke, the recipient of this largesse, was corrupt.

However, most of those who were originally alleged to have conspired in this act have successfully used legal means to ensure their names were removed from the report. All adverse findings against Redmond, Michael and Tom Bailey, Oliver Barry, Joseph Murphy senior and Joseph Murphy junior were removed last year.

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Tom BrennanJames Gogarty

As for the second half of the tribunal’s work – Bertie’s digout and Dunlop’s web of corruption – the inquiry’s final report into these matters stands unaffected.

Despite issuing its final report back in 2012, the tribunal continues to exist in skeletal form. A solicitor, part-time barrister, registrar and administrative staff are employed in Dublin Castle; most of their time has been taken up with outstanding litigation and the processing of costs awards to witnesses.

The chairman, Mr Justice Alan Mahon, has long since returned to spending most of his time in the courts.

The tribunal still faces a number of court challenges. The most serious is by developer Owen O’Callaghan, who has appealed to the Supreme Court after the High Court refused to overturn the inquiry’s findings in relation to him. It is uncertain whether this case will proceed following the developer’s recent death.

Other cases against the tribunal, more limited in scope, are being taken by Charles Haughey’s son Conor, former councillor Tony Fox and businessman Des Richardson.

The tribunal, which will be 20 years in existence later this year, is due to wind up soon but has yet to set a date.