3,270 pages? No, thanks. Give it to me in a paragraph.
Bertie lied. Again and again. We don’t know where £165,000 in his accounts came from. And, therefore, we can’t determine whether he received corrupt payments from developer Owen O’Callaghan.
Ouch! But there’s more to this report than Bertie Ahern, surely?
Much more. The words “corrupt” or “corruption” are used 977 times in the report. Fourteen politicians are listed as having received corrupt payments. In most cases, developers and landowners knew about the payments, even when fixers like lobbyist Frank Dunlop were doing the dirty work for them.
On what is the tribunal basing its findings?
The star witness is developer Tom Gilmartin, who returned to Ireland from the UK to realise his dream of building a huge shopping centre at Quarryvale in west Dublin but was frustrated by planning problems and corrupt politicians. Nearly everything Gilmartin alleges is accepted in the report, even though reference is made to his “poor recollection”.
It was Gilmartin who put Bertie in the frame, with his allegation that Owen O’Callaghan told him he had made two payments to the politician.
Gilmartin – isnt he the guy EU commissioner Pádraig Flynn said was “out of sorts”?
Yes. In 1999, during Flynn’s famous gaffe-strewn appearance on The Late Late Show (he moaned about the expense of running three houses), he claimed Gilmartin wasn’t well.
Gilmartin had given Flynn a cheque for £50,000 a decade earlier, intended for Fianna Fáil. In fact, the money ended up in Flynn’s pocket and some of it was used to buy a farm in Co Mayo, the report finds.
Not a good day for Fianna Fáil, then?
Former taoiseach Albert Reynolds is accused of abusing his power by seeking donations from O’Callaghan. Deceased TD Liam Lawlor gets a chapter all on his own and is accused of abusing his role as an elected representative “to a very significant degree”. Eleven party councillors were found to have taken corrupt payments.
The report says it was entirely inappropriate and an abuse of political power for senior ministers to be seeking contributions from businessmen who were in turn lobbying their government to support commercial projects.
Members of the government in 2007/08 are accused of making “extraordinary and unprecedented” attacks on the tribunal designed to collapse its investigation into Bertie Ahern.
Current leader Micheál Martin has promised to respond and may expel Bertie from the party.
Back to Bertie . . .
What does he say?
A spokesman says Bertie Ahern is reviewing the report and will issue a statement in due course. The media spent yesterday camped outside his house, hoping for a more immediate reaction to the findings.
Frank Dunlop is also saying nothing, but Owen O’Callaghan has responded with a statement angrily rejecting the tribunal findings. He pointed out that Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman found Gilmartin’s evidence unreliable and claimed that the tribunal was biased against him.
Does anyone come out of this well?
Hardly anyone. A number of Fine Gael councillors are implicated in corruption. The tribunal rejects swathes of the evidence of Frank Dunlop, the former lobbyist who ’fessed up to involvement in corruption over a decade ago. The report is critical of a 1989 Garda investigation into planning corruption.
Among those whose evidence is vindicated by the tribunal are Labour Minister Pat Rabbitte, broadcaster Eamon Dunphy and public relations executive Bill O’Herlihy.
What does the tribunal say should happen now?
Its recommendations run to over 200 pages. They include a ban on corrupt politicians holding office and stronger whistleblower legislation. New limits should be imposed on political donations and a planning regulator appointed to give directions to local councils. Registration of lobbyists and new disclosure requirements for public officials are also recommended.
The Government is referring the report to the Garda Commissioner and the DPP, but don’t expect heads to roll. The standard of proof in criminal matters is far higher than that required for a tribunal report.
The Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission will also investigate. The Dáil will hold a debate.
Then we’ll probably all move on.