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City FG leader forwards ‘Carlton site’ corruption allegations to Gormley inquiry

In the mid-nineteen-nineties developer and architect, Paul Clinton, came up with an idea for a new street and shopping centre on O’Connell Street centring on the former Carlton Cinema site and brought together a group of four partners who had varying degrees of involvement. They developed ambitious plans for the ‘Millennium Mall’ retail scheme stretching from the country’s main thoroughfare to Moore Street.

► Funders
Shortly after they developed plans for the site, Clinton claims a powerful senior official ‘Mr A’ (whose name has been given to Village) wanted Clinton and his partners  to bring in their financial institution to confirm their funding. Clinton arranged this meeting and directly afterwards Mr A contacted the financial institution directly and told them to back off as he wanted another named developer who employed Frank Dunlop to do this project. Clinton says the financial institution apologised to him but they did not want to cross the Official, Mr A, as they had other projects that would need to go through the process.

► Other developers
Clinton had to meet the other developers favoured by ‘Mr A’ to appease him. Tax breaks in excess of €116,000,000 were eventually certified by the Local Authority for Clinton’s project alone. In retrospect, this was an extraordinary sum – but such were the pro-developer excesses of the last decade.  The developers said it would be impossible for him to use  the tax breaks unless they got a 50% stake in his project and his tax break.  They said if they were brought on board they would look after their contacts (assumed to be the Official). Clinton was to be introduced to their contacts only after he signed a partnership agreement. These developers claimed to be buying one acre of adjoining land which was not true – as Clinton and his associates owned it. They also claimed to be buying one acre of property beside the project. To play for time Clinton made it a prerequisite of the suggested partnership that they owned both the two acres. Then official documentation was produced which showed a scheme with which he had no involvement but which had been prepared by these developers. It was, says Clinton, like a bad episode of the Sopranos.

The owner of the neighbouring property was Garrett Kelleher, now best-known as promoter of the struggling Chicago Spire – the tallest residential scheme in the world.  Clinton asked him if he really was selling to this developer. Kelleher was adamant he was not selling to them as they had bought a property he needed for a few hundred thousand pounds but were insisting the following day he pay a staggering €15 million for it, even though it was only five per cent of the total site. They made a derisory offer for the rest of his acre and when he declined they threatened him that they could engineer a planning refusal and that after that he would be “back on his knees begging for the same offer”. Clinton also says the developers boasted that they could use their influence with Anglo-Irish bank – to prevent competitors from progressing their commercial schemes so the developers could then buy the property cheap directly from Anglo after they foreclosed on the hapless competitor. It was now, the frustrated developer thought, more like a bad episode of Dallas.

Clinton went into Mr A and complained directly to the Official about the threats and boasts, before lunch one day. He says he did not know if they were idle but thought he should know them anyway. Mr A told him, he says, of the “golden rule” of Dublin’s property scene which was that he was “protected”. Furthermore if Clinton was not compliant their lands would be compulsorily purchased. Immediately after lunch a senior political figure with links to the top of the then government contacted Clinton saying there was no need to be upsetting Mr A. While the conversation was initially friendly, he eventually warned Clinton he was playing with fire and if he “knew how this town really worked” he would realise the danger he was in.

Clinton claims that things were so bad at the time that a ministerial adviser was informed of the serious allegations, but no action was taken on foot of another developer’s complaint. Clinton had been interviewed by the Ministerial Adviser in connection with the other developer’s Complaint. While Clinton agreed to come forward as a witness, no official ever got back to him and the person who had made the complaint was just given the complaint back and told to “go home and await further instructions”, if he wanted to do business in this town.
He says that another well-connected political figure offered him a stake in land that was owned by the State if he agreed to share the €116,000,000 tax break and accelerated allowances available for the O’Connell Street scheme. He was advised by a senior political figure to employ PR advisor, Frank Dunlop, to do the PR for his project, just like a neighbouring developer had. Clinton claims that, when asked why he was being used for PR when the neighbour already had a PR firm commissioned, Frank Dunlop informed him, that he really would not be doing any “PR” but would just ensure the right people would let the development happen.

In late 2001 a compulsory purchase order was placed on the Carlton site after Clinton told Mr A that the development would be going ahead without his friends having a share of the tax break. This led to protracted litigation. Clinton believes the CPO was used as an instrument to prevent the developing the site because of the earlier refusal to “Share the €116,000,000 certified tax break” with the official’s friends and pay what he says was described to him as “dropsey” to certain influential figures. He got what was known as the “Gilmartin treatment”.
In 2005 Councillor Gerry Breen, leader of Fine Gael on Dublin City Council and a few other City Councillors, decided to find out what was causing this impasse. Paul Clinton has described how the official files were incorrect and in the mid 1990s he had proof that confidential files indicating which parts of Dublin would be granted lucrative tax designation under the Urban Renewal scheme were available to selected people before they were publicly announced. These were sent at the time by registered post to Clinton’s Solicitor, pre-dating the public launch of the tax breaks.

Many years later, after Official A was no longer in the same position of influence, the land was bought by another developer, Chartered Land, which is currently progressing a major retail scheme on the land. Chartered Land was not involved in the 1998 and 2001 incidents described by Clinton.

Councillor Breen has forwarded the allegations to Minister Gormley and has called for an inquiry into corruption in the original O’Connell St scheme. In March, Minister for the Environment John Gormley announced that he would be launching investigations into a number of planning decisions around the country following complaints received by his department. Several complaints have already been made about planning in Dublin City, including by An Taisce and the National Graves Association. Clinton has confirmed that he is happy to assist in any Inquiry.

Michael Smith