By Michael Smith.
It was never really reasonable to rely on the sort of minds that took 15 years and up to €300m to deal with an ‘urgent’ examination of corruption in one county to then produce a radical and dynamic report.
The Mahon Report nails easy targets among the rezoners: four dead dinosaurs (three FF, one FG), five red-toothed, long-sidelined rezoning machines (three FF and two FG) and, well, Olivia Mitchell (Olivia was done for inappropriate behaviour in one case only).
But in the rezoning that I was opposing 20 years ago, Cherrywood near Cabinteely in Co Dublin, as with most of the rezonings, the findings fall short of implicating anyone who still could be described as the political establishment, though certainly it nails the corrupt developers behind the scheme – and dodgy Frank Dunlop.
In 1993 the residents’ group I was involved with published a leaflet wondering why local councillors who voted for Cherrywood in 1993, consigning the beauty-spot to concrete, had voted against it in 1992, with no change of circumstances. Six of them.
We said changing their minds was suspicious in 1993.
That was before we knew that 60 politicians and community groups took money from the developer, Monarch Properties, which disbursed £167,000 in cheques and £161,000 in untraced cash.
This was before several councillors were charged with corruption concerning the adjoining ‘Jackson Way’ site.
Before Frank Dunlop (jailed over Jackson Way) who had taken over lobbying for the Cherrywood rezoning in late 1992 confessed himself a crook.
Before we knew that Albert Reynolds had received a £5,000 donation that referred to the positive role of FF councillors in facilitating the rezoning.
And before it was known John Bruton received £2,500 from Monarch for Fine Gael in between the crucial votes.
Nine out of the 12 FG Councillors who would talk to their party’s internal Inquiry in 2000 had received money from Monarch or Frank Dunlop (or both) in the 1991-1993 period when I was concerned with the Cherrywood vote.
The tribunal didn’t even attempt to ask the councillors why they changed their minds after receiving donations from Dunlop or Monarch, though that didn’t stop it hauling them in and asking them endless other questions.
The report almost entirely omits conclusions on this endless stream of dodgy evidence. Someone needs to do a survey of on what percentage of the evidence heard by the tribunal was never resolved by it at all.
Even the Irish Times managed only a few sad paragraphs on most of the 13 Mahon modules. Lots of stuff about Quarryvale, but then again everyone can picture, and everyone hates, Bertie – so that sells newspapers.
The last outstanding attempt to call councillors to account seems to be the Irish Independent’s attempts to hold Olivia Mitchell responsible for her “inappropriate” behaviour. Readers will recall that Frank Dunlop claimed that his purpose in giving IR£500 cash to Councillor Mitchell in November 1992 was in the context of her candidacy in the General Election and a request which had been made by Councillor Therese Ridge, who was a supporter of Quarryvale who had sought Councillor Mitchell’s support for Quarryvale.
Mr Dunlop acknowledged that in his discussions with Councillor Mitchell regarding Quarryvale she had never intimated to him that her support for the Quarryvale rezoning project came at a ‘cost’ to Mr Dunlop. Mr Dunlop also stated that, while he could not say so specifically, it was ‘highly probable in the context of the imminence of the vote that Quarryvale was discussed in that conversation’ (a reference to his meeting with Councillor Mitchell on 10 November).
The Tribunal was satisfied that, as a matter of probability, Councillor Mitchell received a sum of IR£500 from Mr Dunlop at the time of the 1992 General Election. It noted: “At that time Councillor Mitchell had had meetings with Mr Dunlop and Mr O’Callaghan in relation to the Quarryvale project, and was a supporter of that project. While the available evidence would suggest that Councillor Mitchell herself did not solicit the contribution, she nonetheless accepted it in the knowledge of Mr Dunlop’s close association with the Quarryvale rezoning project. In all those circumstances it was inappropriate for her to have accepted the cash donation”.
What is strange is how self-evident it appears to have been to the tribunal that the payment could not be deemed to be in any way referable to Cherrywood, also being fronted by Frank Dunlop. Because, after she got the payment, Councillor Mitchell changed her mind on Cherrywood. Instead of opposing the development she supported it. Twenty years on we do not know why. The Mahon Tribunal certainly did not ask.
Meanwhile attempts to censure Councillor Mitchell are being pre-emptively attacked in the press. Minister Leo Varadkar is behind Councillor Mitchell. The Sunday Independent even reported that “The Government is facing an unwanted by-election in Dublin South if a Fine Gael internal inquiry into its members who were criticised by the Mahon tribunal censures the respected government backbencher Olivia Mitchell or withdraws the party whip from her. Though Ms Mitchell has not commented publicly on the inquiry, sources close to her told the Sunday Independent: ‘Olivia will absolutely reject, to the point of going to the courts, any attempt to censure her’. The Sunday Independent has also learnt that Ms Mitchell is “incandescent with anger” over comments from party colleagues on how Fine Gael should discipline the Dublin South TD”.
Take the inevitable media failure in combination with the governmental failure to implement the recommendations of Moriarty (it was promised every relevant government department would come up with a list of measures within four weeks), the continuing planning and environmental chaos countrywide (Dublin continues to sprawl, one-off housing accounts for more than fifty-per-cent of national housing, septic tanks go unmonitored and turf-cutters breach minimum EU standards, for example) and the failure of Fine Gael to curtail Denis O’Brien’s grandstanding with its grandees; and, unfortunately, the optimal response to Mahon seems, once again, to be cynicism.