TD Aengus O Snodaigh sent emails to ministers about his concerns in 2016 and 2017. Oireachtas TV

'I wasn't aware of it': Tánaiste denies knowing protection money was being paid to criminals on construction sites

The High Court heard that criminals extorted money from companies, including one building houses for Dublin City Council.

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said he was not aware of claims that protection money was being paid to criminals to safeguard against anti-social behaviour at construction sites.

The Dáil was told today that Sinn Féin TD Aengus O Snodaigh emailed a number of ministers in December 2016 and January 2017 in relation to the matter. 

Junior Minister Catherine Byrne has already commented on her involvement, stating that she contacted Dublin City Council at the time and was given assurances that the issues were being dealt with, and the gardaí were involved. 

Coveney and the then-Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald were also included on the email. Coveney was housing minister at the time.

During Leaders’ Questions today, Coveney was asked whether the government was aware of the issues. 

“If the issue had been raised with me, I would have raised it with the Minister for Justice, which would have been the correct thing to do. The fact that I didn’t do so is because I wasn’t aware of it,” he said.

Coveney said he was trying to get to the bottom of why the emails were not raised with him by his office. 

I am trying to understand what happened here.
We didn’t respond to the Deputy [O Snodaigh], so far as I’m aware, and that’s because I wasn’t involved here. Whether I should have been is a different issue – but it wasn’t raised with me.

High Court

A High Court hearing this week heard that a known criminal and his associate are alleged to have extorted money from companies, including one building houses for Dublin City Council, by offering them protection from anti-social behaviour in return for thousands of euro per week.

Justice Carmel Stewart at the High Court found that over €250,000 in four bank accounts linked to Derek O’Driscoll is the proceeds of crime.

The Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) seized the bank accounts in December 2018 and Justice Stewart’s order means that the money will be kept by the State.

Dublin City Council has denied paying over any monies to criminals stating that the particular site along with other vacant development sites in the area experienced severe anti-social behaviour over the years.

In a statement it said it was a “matter of serious concern for local residents and their elected representatives. In addition to providing much-needed social housing, the development was intended to address the problem of the anti-social behaviour”.

The council said it was also aware of an “extraordinary level of intimidation and criminal activity directed at this contractor’s staff, the City Council’s own staff and at the building site”.

The City Council said it is arranging for an independent investigation to be carried out into all aspects of its involvement in this matter.

Emails sent to ministers

Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty told the Dáil today that ministers, including Coveney, were made aware of what was going on, as emails were sent to them. 

In the email sent by O Snodaigh, ministers were told that “interference from criminals in deciding security for the site has major implications for the state sponsored project in the here and now, but also in the future”.

Coveney acknowledged that there certainly were “email correspondence” with the Department of Justice and his own office, who were CC’d in on the emails.

“Any use of public money to pay crime gangs is unacceptable,” he said, adding “the first that I heard of this issue was yesterday”.

He said it is clear that the concerns and accusations raised is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

Doherty stated that Frances Fitzgerald declined a meeting on the issue as Minister for Justice in 2016. 

However, defending his Fine Gael colleague, Coveney said the Justice Department “responded comprehensively” to the issue, stating that it was the view at the time that this was a matter that was being investigated by the gardaí. 

Doherty said “no action” was taken by any minister, stating that O Snodaigh had offered to meet with government members to give more insight into what was going on, but “it all fell on deaf ears”. 

The Donegal TD also told the Dáil that he had correspondence showing that the gardaí were aware of the “protection money” problems at the Cherry Orchard site, yet Fitzgerald at the time said there had been no such complaints made to the gardaí at the time. 

He called on the government to give assurances that no such behaviour is happening on any other construction site around the country.

Coveney said Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy, who yesterday said he could not condone such payments being made, would ensure there is not contagion on other sites.