IT SAT FOR over 900 days, heard from 400+ witnesses and might cost the taxpayer up to €250m (and the rest) in the final count: the Mahon Tribunal has been a long and costly time coming.
In case you’ve forgotten how we got here from rumblings that first started almost two decades ago, here’s a helpful timeline which marks some of the noteworthy events during that time:
1995 - Former An Taisce chairman Michael Smith and barrister Colm MacEochaidh offered a £10,000 reward for information relating to what they believed was extensive corruption in the rezoning of tracts of land in Dublin.
Whistleblower James Gogarty – retired from JSME (Joseph Murphy Structural Engineers) construction company which he alleged was among those involved in deals with then-government minister Ray Burke – came forward. Developer brothers Michael and Tom Bailey were also part of these deals in north Dublin, he claimed.
June 1997 - Bertie Ahern had become Taoiseach and made Ray Burke Minister for Foreign Affairs. When some questioned the wisdom of the appointment, Bertie asked Dermot Ahern to make enquiries into the Burke allegations. Bertie Ahern said he himself “had looked up every tree in North Dublin”.
September 1997 - Ray Burke, under increased scrutiny and allegations, resigns as minister.
November 1997 - The now retired judge Feargus Flood is brought in to investigate possible corruption in the planning process in the greater Dublin area.
January 1998 – On opening the tribunal, Mr Justice Flood said it would not be possible to know “until the preliminary private investigation is completed” as to whether a full public hearing would be “warranted”. He said, however, that if it was decided to go ahead with public hearings:
I intend to follow the excellent example of the Finlay and McCracken Tribunals which demonstrated that time spent on investigation can pay considerable dividends in terms of keeping the amount of expensive hearing days to a minimum consistent with the Tribunal fully discharging its terms of reference.
July 1998 – It is decided that those public hearings will also oblige the Tribunal to “inquire into the public life of a named former member of the House, Mr. Raphael Burke”.
December 1998 - The Tribunal issued a warning that it was concerned that “confidential information connected with the Tribunal is being deliberately and systematically drip fed to elements of the media” – and that it had made a formal complaint to the gardai on this matter.
January 1999 - Padraig Flynn gives an astonishing interview to Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show about ‘class act’ daughter Beverly Flynn, the expenses involved in running three households and the Flood Tribunal. Of the latter, referring to claims by developer Tom Gilmartin that he had given Flynn a £50,000 donation for Fianna Fáil when Flynn was Environment Minister, he said:
This is all I’ll say. I never asked or took money from anybody to do favours for anybody in my life.
(put up on Youtube by AssassinorErrandBoy)
March 1999 - George Redmond, a lifelong employee of local authorities in Dublin, is arrested at Dublin airport by Criminal Assets Bureau – he is found to be carrying £300,000 in cash and drafts. His home had been raided by CAB in February and he was hit for a tax bill of over half a million pounds for undeclared offshore bank accounts.
April 2000 - PR man Frank Dunlop makes several revelations to the Tribunal about money he paid to politicians on behalf of developers in return for favourable rezoning decisions in relations to land at Carrickmines. Developer Owen O’Callaghan – who took over the Quarryvale project from Tom Gilmartin in 1992, denied that he knew of any such payments.
January 2001 - Liam Lawlor is jailed for the first time for contempt of court for not co-operating with the Flood Tribunal. He will be jailed briefly twice more by February 2002 for the same reason.
February 2002 – Lawlor defends his position in the Dáil.
26 September 2002 – Second Interim Report, published by Mr Justice Flood, finds that Ray Burke received bribes from various business people, including property developers during the 1970s and 1980s. It also finds that Burke did not buy his home ‘Briargate’ in Swords in “a normal commerical transaction”. There are also findings in relation to Burke’s bid to stifle advertising revenue to RTÉ.
30 September 2002 – The Third Interim Report concerned itself with “the activities of Mr George Redmond, a retired Assistant City and County Manager for Dublin, in the context of his dealings with Mr James Gogarty, Mr Joseph Murphy Snr, Mr Joseph Murphy Jnr and Mr Michael Bailey. As well as damning findings against Redmond in terms of corrupt payments, Bailey, Redmond and Murphy Jnr are found to have “hindered and obstructed the Tribunal”.
June 2003 - Mr Justice Feargus Flood resigns as head of the Tribunal (after 75 months there) and recommends his assistant Judge Alan Mahon as his replacement. Circuit court judges Mary Faherty and Gerald Keys assist the new chair.
November 2003 - George Redmond is convicted on two counts of corruption for accepting a bribe in relation to a right-of-way at Lucan, but the conviction is later found unsafe in July 2004. By then, Redmond had served much of his one-year sentence and so a retrial was not ordered.
March 2004 - Former developer Tom Gilmartin gives evidence to Mahon, alleging that Flynn had taken the £50,000 and also that former minister Ray MacSharry had introduced him to several Cabinet members in relation to the development of a shopping centre. He said Bertie Ahern was one of those people – both Ahern and MacSharry have denied Gilmartin’s claims.
It is during this evidence that Gilmartin mkes the startling claim that a man – whose identity was never revealed – cornered him in a corridor at Leinster House and told Gilmartin he could “end up in the Liffey” for refusing to pay £5m to pave the way for the shopping centre.
April 2004 - The then-senator Mary O’Rourke tells the Tribunal that she remembers Gilmartin meeting some members of the Cabinet in early 1989 when she was Education Minister. She said (see p58 of this transcript) that the meeting was not an “arranged meeting as such” but that Padraig Flynn had knocked on her door and asked her to come across to an office “where there was a man, Mr Thomas Gilmartin who was going to provide thousands of jobs for the Dublin area”. She said that as far as she could remember:
…the following people were in the room Mr Padraig Flynn, Mr Ray Burke, Mr Brian Lenihan, Mr Bertie Ahern and the then Taoiseach Mr Charles Haughey, Mr Thomas Gilmartin.
June 2004 - The Fourth Interim report from the Tribunal – this time under Mahon – is published. It outlines all the new avenues of potential corruption it was investigating and estimates that if it didn’t get more staff, it could take up to 11 years to complete its work…
The Tribunal says that the workload at this investigative phase of these new allegations (which we will later find out include those claims made against Bertie Ahern) is “significantly greater” than the workload involved when the Tribunal was sitting in public. Therefore, it appealed for more resources and staff:
November 2004 - Bertie Ahern is ordered to bring forward all documents relating to any accounts he might have in financial institutions either here or abroad. (This later led to the astonishing claim that Ahern had no bank account between 1987 and 1993. He was a government minister, first for Labour and then for Finance in all of this time.)
February 2005 - Ahern’s affidavit to the Tribunal asserts that he didn’t avail of tax amnesty and had no outstanding tax liability. The Tribunal demands more documentation from him.
January 2005 – Ray Burke serves just over four months in prison for not paying tax on undeclared income. The Flood Tribunal had found that he had been paid this money from backers of Century Radio, which had been awarded a number of radio station and one national station licences.
March 2005 - Liam Lawlor admits that he got £350,000 from beef baron Larry Goodman for the purchase of land at Coolamber but denies that he was in any deal for the rezoning of Carrickmines. Lawlor dies in a car crash in Moscow in October of this year.
June 2006 – Bailey brothers and Bovale Developments come to a settlement of tax owed to the Revenue Commissioners. It’s thought to have come to €25m.
April 2006 - The Tribunal hears that money was lodged in Celia Larkin’s accounts in 1994 – for Ahern. A long tussle continues between the Tribunal and Ahern’s lawyers for full disclosure on all documentation.
July 2006 – The Criminal Assets Bureau stops the sale of lands owned by Jackson Way Properties at Carrickmines due to Dunlop allegations that councillors were bribed to rezone the land.
September 2006 - The Irish Times publishes leaked claims from the Tribunal about ‘digouts’ Ahern allegedly received. Six days later, Ahern told Bryan Dobson in an RTÉ interview that the money had been a loan – although he hadn’t made repayments at the time. Here too, he remembered getting £8,000 from a group of Irish businessmen, collected for him at a dinner in Manchester.
Again, gavinsblog got a grab of the Ahern/Dobson interview up on Youtube – he recalls the “contributions” to help him in his financial situation because of his separation from wife Miriam…
(via gavinsblog/Youtube) If you want to watch Part 2 of the interview (where ‘Paddy the Plasterer’ is mentioned. He appears to get upset just before 3:00.) click here. Part 3 is here.
October 2006 – Ahern makes a statement in the Dáil on the ‘digouts’, apologising to the Irish people for “the bewilderment” caused to them by the payments but insisting he had breached no laws nor code of conduct. In this month, it also emerged that Ahern had bought his house from Micheál Wall, one of his Manchester benefactors. In May 2007, details of a £30,000 payment to Celia Larkin came out – this money was to renovate this house owned by Wall in which Ahern lived and later bought, it was heard.
- Watch Bertie Ahern answer questions from broadcaster Vincent Browne on the whole Micheál Wall house issue at a Fianna Fáil manifesto launch in 2007> (from RTÉ/handelaar/Youtube) The ‘Vincent!’ interjections are from Fianna Fáil director of elections PJ Mara.
September-December 2007 - Ahern appears at the Mahon Tribunal where Mr Justice Mahon appears frustrated by “significant gaps” in Ahern’s explanations for his finances.
March 2008 - Grainne Carruth, Bertie Ahern’s former secretary at St Luke’s in Drumcondra, breaks down while giving evidence (click here for the transcript) at the Tribunal and admits that she made sterling lodgements into Irish Permanent Building Society accounts in his names and those of his daughters in 1994.
April 2008 – Padraig Flynn denies that he used part of a £50,000 political donation from Tom Gilmartin to Fianna Fáil in 1990 for personal investments.
May 2008 - Bertie Ahern officially resigns as Taoiseach. He had made the announcement the previous month that he would step down as leader of the country and of the Fianna Fáil party:
It is a matter of real concern to me that the important work of government and party is now being over shadowed by issues relating to me at the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments.
The constant barrage of commentary on Tribunal related matters has and I believe will continue to dominate the political agenda at an important point for our country. We face uncertain economic times and challenges and we are soon to cast our vote on the Lisbon Treaty. The vital interests of Ireland demand that the national dialogue of our political system address these fundamental issues and not be constantly deflected by the minutiae of my life, my lifestyle, and my finances.
The decision I am announcing today – like all other decisions that I have taken in a lifetime in politics – is solely motivated by what is best for the people. I have been reflecting on pursuing this course of action for some time. This is solely a personal decision. I have no doubt that a simplistic analysis will suggest that my decision has been influenced by most recent events at the Tribunal. What I announce today is completely inspired by the desire to refocus the political dynamic in Ireland.
June 2008 - On the question of £15,000 sterling lodgements made for him by Gráinne Carruth , Ahern said he won the money on the horses.
October 2008 - Public hearings concluded at the Tribunal.
December 2008 - A Government-published report on tribunals of inquiry in Ireland delves into the cost of the Mahon (alleged planning irregularities and payments); Morris (complaints about certain gardai in Donegal) and Moriarty (alleged payments to politicians and related matters) Tribunals.
The financial cost of the Mahon Tribunal is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The report – using figures up to end December 2007 – figured that while the Tribunal legal teams had so far cost up to €90m in costs excluding future third party costs (the cost of representation for witnesses), those latter costs could be much more significant. It estimated that further third party costs of over €100m were to come.
May 2009 – Frank Dunlop is sentenced to two years in prison for corruption, with the final six months suspended. He is released in July 2010.
March 2012 - Four years on, the Public Accounts Committee said that the cost of the Tribunal could reach up to €250m.
July 2013 - The final chapter of the final report from the Tribunal is published following the collapse of a corruption trial against four former politicians. The chapter had been held back in case it would interfere with the prosecution but after star prosecution witness Frank Dunlop fell ill, the case could not continue.
First published 22 March 2012; Updated 31 July 2013