Answers, provided by a spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, to the questions posed by Village to Micheál Martin, about his relationship with developers Owen O’Callaghan and John Fleming, are evasive and misleading.
By Frank Connolly.
The Fianna Fáil leader, Micheál Martin, sounds more like a man under pressure than one who looks most likely to be the next Taoiseach. During the seven-way TV leadership debates and in other interviews, Martin has been on the defensive across a range of policy issues and apparently obsessed with the political threat posed by Sinn Féin.
He has desperately sought to distance himself from the “ghosts of Fianna Fáil” past and his decade-long participation in the Bertie Ahern-led governments that destroyed the economy and damaged the fundamentals of Irish society.
His utterances on health, housing, childcare and pensions, among other matters, sound hollow and unconvincing given that he was at the heart of the decision-making which contributed to the inequities which have beset these vital areas of public provision for so long.
During RTÉ interviews with Sean O’Rourke on Wednesday (29th January) and Bryan Dobson on Friday (31st January), Micheál Martin stumbled into another potential minefield when he was asked about the close ties his party has enjoyed with builders and developers in the past and whether he could keep his distance in the future.
In reality, the financial crash ensured that a lot of distance was put between his party and the builders when many of them went bust or into the bad bank of NAMA which was created by the last Fianna Fáil government in 2009. It was set up to bail out the distressed banks but despite all assurances to the contrary, the agency has also bailed out many of the developers that previously populated the party’s Galway tent in the ‘boomier’ times.
The legacy of that relationship continues to haunt the party and while Martin avoided much of the damage suffered by his former colleagues who came under deeper tribunal scrutiny his responses to difficult questions on the subject have not always been convincing.
The past relationship with property developers, speculators and landlords also touches on a core issue relating to Fianna Fáil’s ability or will to tackle the housing crisis. Martin has called for much-needed major investment by local authorities and the State in the construction of public and affordable housing to meet the current emergency. But it is Fianna Fáil-led governments since the 1980s that have divested local authorities of the resources and remit to build decent social and affordable homes and handed responsibility to the private developers and builders.
The gap in provision for those struggling with rents was filled by the obscene subsidies to private landlords facilitated under the Housing Assistance Programme. After the crisis Fine Gael-led governments transferred vast amounts of public assets and property to heavily-tax-incentivised global funds, including through the NAMA process.
In its election policy on housing, Fianna Fáil’s proposals to give one Euro for every three saved by first-time buyers would encourage builders to hike the house prices as happened with similar policies in the past. The party’s plan to reduce levies on developers would inevitably be pocketed rather than contribute to lower costs for home-buyers, if previous experience is anything to go by.
The corrupt relationship between Fianna Fáil and other politicians and the “builders” was ruthlessly exposed at the Planning and Payments Tribunal (also known as both the ‘Flood’ and the ‘Mahon’ tribunal) which was established in late 1997 following revelations concerning Ray Burke. It concluded with a deeply damning report in 2012, having exposed an extraordinary litany of illicit payments to politicians since the late 1980s.
Micheál Martin was drawn into its remit when the tribunal examined payments made by Cork developer, Owen O’Callaghan, to various TDs, councillors and others from 1988 to the late 1990s.
O’Callaghan was accused by his former and reluctant business partner, Tom Gilmartin, of bribing a large number of national and local politicians, with the help of lobbyist Frank Dunlop, spending upwards of £1.8 million in the corruption process. The remit of the tribunal was restricted to Dublin and did not extend to those who were abusing the zoning and planning regulations across the rest of the country.
Martin, who served as a councillor and then TD in Cork, was brought into the Flood tribunal because he received political donations from O’Callaghan. The first donation of £1000 was made to Martin around June 1989 during the general election after which he was elected a TD for Cork South-Central for the first time.
Scrutiny by the tribunal of the intent of all donations to Fianna Fáil during that election was intense. This was also the election campaign during which then justice minister, Ray Burke, received large payments from developers totalling some £80,000 which directly led to the establishment of the Flood tribunal eight years later. In June 1989, environment minister, Pádraig Flynn took a £50,000 donation to Fianna Fáil from Gilmartin and lodged it to his own bank account.
Martin told the tribunal that he cashed the £1000 cheque he received from O’Callaghan in 1989 and spent it on his election expenses. During the local election campaign in 1991, Martin received a further donation of £5000 from O’Callaghan through the developer’s company Riga Ltd. In his testimony to the tribunal, Martin said that the generous donation (equivalent to more than €10,000 today) was “not for me alone” but also “for the party’s expenditure in the ward”. He was unable to provide full receipts for the spending. At that time, politicians were not required to issue receipts for such contributions or to register political donations.
What was unusual in regard to the payment was that the cheque was lodged to his wife’s bank account in Dublin. In his written statement to the tribunal, Martin explained that:
“With regards to the donation of £5000 made on or about June 1991, £3,500 was lodged to my wife, Mary’s AIB account, Baggot Street on 4th July, 1991…..the balance of £1,500 was cashed and applied for political expenditure. On the 18th July 1991, a further £2,500 was withdrawn from this account which I believe was applied for political expenditure at the time. For the record my wife lived and worked in Dublin through 1984 to 1991”.
He also told the tribunal that his wife had, since 1984, been a “significant organiser” in his electoral team and would have dealt with “the financial aspects of it”….in terms of lodgements and “paying bills and so on”.
He said he had “no doubt in his mind” that the monies were spent for electoral purposes although he could not provide all the documents to confirm this. He also pointed out that there was no legislative requirement to maintain separate accounts for political donations at the time.
O’Callaghan made a third donation of £200 to Micheál Martin in 1992 by sponsoring a Race Night organised by his local cumann in the constituency.
While Martin was mayor of Cork in 1993, O’Callaghan made a contribution to a charity of which the politician was a patron. Martin approached a number of business people in the city to contribute to the Atlantic Pond Fund, including O’Callaghan who gave £5000 to the cause. The funds were used to restore the Atlantic Pond in Cork.
There is no suggestion of anything improper in relation to these donations given to Micheál Martin.
During this period of the early 1990s, Martin was identified by Cork and national media as a supporter or ‘political associate’ of O’Callaghan. The Cork developer was among the most powerful of the city’s businessmen and was responsible for the Merchant’s Quay shopping centre along the River Lee and other city projects as well as the Douglas Shopping Centre further out of town.
He also assembled land for the large Mahon Point retail and business park he developed close to the Lee tunnel and the city’s ring road. The tunnel was a matter of some controversy at the tribunal following an allegation by Gilmartin that O’Callaghan had been able to influence its route. The claim was rubbished on the basis that the route was chosen before O’Callaghan owned any land in the area but it eventually landed in 1999 close to the Mahon site.
According to Gilmartin, O’Callaghan saw Martin as a potential future leader of the party in which he had significant influence. O’Callaghan was appointed to the board of Bord Gáis by Charles Haughey during his time as Taoiseach in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
When Albert Reynolds ousted Haughey as FF leader in February 1992, the takeover was supported by O’Callaghan and other key, backroom, business figures in the party.
O’Callaghan was one of a small number of supporters who were approached by FF party treasurer, Ray MacSharry, to give a donation of £100,000 each to help clear the party debt of over £3 million in September 1993. He also helped to organise the now infamous dinner in the home of local Cork businessman Niall Welch, in March 1994.
Gilmartin gave evidence concerning details of the dinner event, information he said was given to him by O’Callaghan. The tribunal, separately, then gathered significant new insights into the nature of the party’s fundraising operation, led by its bag man in chief, Des Richardson, a close ally of Bertie Ahern and a member of the Dublin TD’s so called ‘Drumcondra mafia’.
According to Gilmartin, he was informed by O’ Callaghan around the time of the event that Reynolds had arrived in Cork by helicopter on the evening of 11th March, 1994 to attend the dinner. The Taoiseach addressed “nine or ten” people who each left an envelope on the table containing between £5000 and £10,000, the tribunal heard. Two amounts of £25,000, the proceeds of the event, were lodged some weeks later in the Fianna Fáil bank account by Richardson.
According to Gilmartin’s statement, O’Callaghan claimed to have handed a £150,000 cash payment to Reynolds in the bedroom of the Cork developer’s home later that night. The Taoiseach returned by helicopter to Dublin in order to catch the government jet to travel to the US for the annual St Patrick’s Day celebrations and to meet the US President.
Martin, then a backbench TD, was not among the witnesses who gave evidence to the tribunal about the dinner party in March 1994 and there is no evidence that he knew anything about it, notwithstanding his friendship and association with O’Callaghan.
Among the guests who attended the dinner party was Bandon-based builder, John Fleming, of John J Fleming Construction, who left over £6,000 on the table at the end of the dinner. No records of the individual donors were retained by the party and no receipts were issued. The dinner was also attended by then agriculture minister, Joe Walsh and then FF general secretary, Pat Farrell.
Village asked Martin whether he had any discussions with anyone in Fianna Fáil or anyone else, including attendees Owen O’Callaghan or John Fleming, about the Fianna Fáil party fund-raiser in the home of Niall Welch in Cork on March 11th, 1994, before or after the event; and what was the substance of any such discussions. He was also asked whether he is satisfied that all the monies raised on that occasion were transferred to party funds.
A Fianna Fail spokesperson replied: “All of these issues were dealt with in great detail by the Mahon Tribunal eight years ago and are being resurrected now as a threadbare attempt to smear the party leader“.
From Seven Heads in West Cork, John Fleming grew the small building-contractor business he formed in 1975 to become a significant player in the 1980s after successfully winning major public contracts including for school and water scheme projects across the county. In the late 1980s, he was chosen to build the Glanmire bypass, one of the largest road-builds in the country at the time.
A successful house builder on the newly zoned lands around expanding Cork city, Fleming also developed what was, at the time, a luxury holiday-home complex at Courtmacsherry in picturesque West Cork, in the late 1990s. In December, 1999, Micheál Martin took out a mortgage of £135,000 from Irish Life and Permanent to purchase 4 Meadowlands, one of the first of the large houses built in the scheme overlooking the sea in the small holiday village.
The property was purchased from John J Fleming Construction, one of the companies in the larger Fleming Group.
By this time, Martin was in government after being appointed to his first cabinet position by Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in 1997. A former school teacher, he was made Minister for Education before he was given the health portfolio in 2000 and then served as Enterprise, Trade and Employment minister from 2004 to 2007.
In January 2007, Fleming travelled to Hungary with Martin as a member of an Enterprise Ireland delegation headed by the minister and later announced that he had won a contract to develop a wind-farm project in the eastern European country. Later that year, Fleming’s company made a donation of €900 to the minister’s general election campaign.
Three years later, following the property and financial crash and with total debts of more than €1 billion, the Fleming Construction Group was forced into liquidation.
Fleming had invested heavily in the property market during the boom years and his purchases included the Inchydoney Hotel, which gained some renown for hosting the Fianna Fáil think-in in 2004 and the Sheraton in Fota Island, both in Cork, as well as the Limerick Radisson.
His €165 million acquisition in December 2005 of a 7.7 acre site in Sandyford, Dublin at the peak of the property bubble proved disastrous. Fleming’s companies were place in liquidation and he filed for bankruptcy in the UK in late 2010, leaving a trail of unpaid creditors including local tradespeople and contractors in the Cork area behind.
On 11th March, 2010, six days after Fleming’s property company went into liquidation (on 5th March, 2010) the Irish Permanent mortgage on the Courtmacsherry holiday home purchased by Martin, was cancelled, according to documents lodged with the Land Registry. There is a reference in the Land Registry documents connecting the charge on the holiday property to the Martin’s family home in Ballinlough, Cork which they purchased many years previously.
In July 2009, a further charge “for present and future advances” with AIB was lodged with the Land Registry in respect of the Courtmacsherry property.
Village asked Martin to explain the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the property and the cancellation of the loan on 11th March 2010.
The Fianna Fáil spokesperson replied: “The property was bought through an auctioneer with a mortgage in 1999. In 2010, Micheál switched mortgage provider and the loan was restructured to include the balance of this loan and refurbishment of Micheál’s family home. Repayment of this mortgage is ongoing“.
Asked was there any significance in the fact that the loan was cancelled, according to Land Registry documents, just six days after the company which sold the property, owned by John Fleming, went into liquidation (on 5th March, 2010), the spokesperson said:
“None. See above. These questions clearly represent an attempt to raise a controversy in the dying days of the General Election campaign where there is none“.
Martin’s relationship with the builders and businesspeople did not stop at O’Callaghan and Fleming, however, and other donors stepped in to provide significant financial assistance as his political career progressed and his influence continued to increase with his growing role in national government. Even before he entered cabinet for the first time, Martin had some knowledge of the heat of battle when corporate interests and politics collide.
During the current election campaign Simon Coveney has referred to Martin in less than complimentary terms. Coveney, who shares the Cork South-Central constituency with the FF leader, claimed that he knew Martin “better than most”. He added that Martin is “not the person” he would want leading Ireland in the negotiations on the future trading relationship between Brexit Britain and the EU.
While Coveney had previously suggested that he could go into government with Martin, in certain circumstances, his more recent comments reminded more seasoned observers of the bitter controversy surrounding the departure of the Tánaiste’s late father from cabinet in the mid 1990s.
The controversy erupted in the summer of 1995 when the Minister for Energy and Communications, Michael Lowry, alleged that a “cosy cartel” was operating in the acquisition of state assets. Lowry had refused to sanction the purchase by Owen O’Callaghan of three acres of land from CIE at Horgan’s Quay along the River Lee in Cork city.
During the ensuing row, the Minister for Defence and the Marine, Hugh Coveney, was forced to resign after it emerged that he had inappropriately canvassed for a tender from Bord Gáis for the quantity surveyor’s firm he owned.
O’Callaghan was a board member of Bord Gáis and subsequently boasted to Tom Gilmartin that he had been instrumental in forcing Coveney’s demotion to junior minister. Lowry was forced to resign later that year over his involvement in the award of the second mobile-phone licence to businessman and Fine Gael supporter, Denis O’Brien.
O’Callaghan, who had good relations with key people in CIE, subsequently secured the purchase of Horgan’s Quay after a vigorous public relations and lobbying exercise led by Frank Dunlop. In the Dáil, O’Callaghan was ably defended by Cork TD Batt O’Keeffe, and Liam Lawlor TD, both of whom had received generous financial assistance from the developer.
Micheál Martin also defended the Cork businessman during the heated Dáil exchanges. Hugh Coveney, father of Simon, was a popular figure in Cork and died some years later in a tragic accident.
Asked by Village whether Martin had any discussions with Owen O’Callaghan about his intended purchase of a site at Horgan’s Quay, Cork in the mid 1990s before he made statements in the Dáil or elsewhere on the matter, the spokesperson said:
“All of these issues were dealt with in great detail by the Mahon Tribunal eight years ago and are being resurrected now as a threadbare attempt to smear the party leader“.
There is no reference in the Flood or Mahon tribunal transcripts to the Horgan’s Quay controversy.
Martin also received contributions from construction giant, Ascon, to assist his 2007 general election campaign. Two donations of €900 each were given to the politician by Ascon Gable Developments in Douglas and Ascon Ltd in Little Island, both in Cork.
Three years earlier, in 2004, Ascon was awarded an €11 million contract to build a new wing at St John’s Hospital in Enniscorthy. In November 2008, Ascon and another well-known player in the Irish construction sector, Rohcon, were rebranded by their Dutch parent company as BAM Ltd.
Ascon was one of the main recipients of public contracts in Ireland for many years and there is nothing to suggest that they received or were awarded any tenders, including the one at St John’s Hospital, Enniscorthy other than on merit or indeed that Martin had any role in the award.
BAM is at the centre of the storm surrounding the massive overspend on the National Children’s Hospital in Dublin and is also building the long-delayed €80 million convention centre in Cork city, which is also heavily state-subsidised. While critical of the delays in the project which is to be located at the former Beamish & Crawford site close to the Lee, Martin has been less than vocal on the escalating cost of the State’s contribution to the project, which Coveney has been promoting.
In his various ministries, Martin displayed competence and efficiency and his role in the introduction of the smoking ban while health minister is often recalled, including by himself, as a courageous move, given the power of the global tobacco and local liquor and restaurant interests which lobbied heavily against it. He often cites improvements in heart and cancer care during his tenure as other important life-saving measures which were introduced under his stewardship.
However as health minister, he was also responsible for the dismantling of the local health board structures and the introduction of the Health Service Executive, without removing much of the bureaucracy, or the excess management and administration that has since contributed hugely to the dysfunctionality and escalating financial costs of the health service.
He was fortunate to be in charge of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment before the economic collapse and moved to foreign affairs in 2008 as the Fianna Fáil-Green government struggled to keep the lights on and was forced into the disastrous bank guarantee. Despite over ten years in government, he managed to avoid being at the scene of the crash when it destroyed the lives of so many citizens and left a legacy of debt for generations to come.
As foreign minister, he was responsible for keeping the ten-year-old Good Friday Agreement (GFA) alive during a period when the power-sharing institutions were relatively stable. During this time, he had regular engagements with some of those he now derides as the ‘shadowy’ people behind Sinn Féin’s decision-making process. He did not appear to have any problems dealing with them during his time as foreign minister. Nor did he contribute to any significant deepening of the all-island aspirations of the GFA despite his party’s claim to be the inheritors of true republicanism.
As the curtain came down on Bertie Ahern’s three-term reign, Martin was one of those who stuck by his leader until the end while the rest of the country was reeling from the then Taoiseach’s convoluted and downright false explanations for the huge payments into various accounts under his control in the early 1990s.
The monies in question were directly related to the tribunal’s investigation into alleged payments to Ahern by O’Callaghan relating to Quarryvale and the tax designation of the developer’s retail centre at Golden Island in Athlone. They also included the lodgement in early December 1994, by the politician’s partner, Celia Larkin, to an account Ahern controlled of IR£28,772.90 – the exact equivalent of $45,000 at that day’s trading rate in the AIB branch. Tribunal investigators and the evidence suggested that the payment was connected to the proposed national stadium at Neilstown.
Martin was quick to deny any contact with O’Callaghan and Ahern when his possible involvement in the stadium proposal was put to him by tribunal lawyers and again during the 2011 general election.
When the tribunal lawyer asked Martin about an entry in Ahern’s ministerial diary for 13th April, 1994, indicating that “Owen O’Callaghan” and “M Martin” met him at 3.30 p.m. that day, his answer was at first evasive and then less than credible. He said he had no memory of such a meeting. When it was put to him that the meeting may have concerned the proposed national stadium, Martin responded that he had “no involvement, good bad or indifferent” in the stadium plan.
Martin had previously denied having any meetings with O’Callaghan and also disputed an entry in Frank Dunlop’s diary for 13th November 1991, which referred to a meeting at 10.00 a.m. and to “M Martin room LH”.
After promising to consult his records in relation to the 1991 meeting, he later told the tribunal that as a backbencher he did not keep a diary and therefore had no way of confirming whether he had attended either meeting. Martin was present in Leinster House on the dates in question but insisted that he was not the “M Martin” named in the diary entries.
When he was confronted with the serious credibility gap in these responses during the 2011 election campaign, a party spokesman claimed that the tribunal had accepted his evidence that he was not the “M Martin” named in the diaries. There is no evidence that the tribunal ever accepted this claim. The consequence of his blank denials about any such meetings with O’Callaghan and others was to ensure that he avoided being dragged into the lengthy and deeply embarrassing tribunal inquiry into the stadium proposal which did so much damage to Ahern, not least when it came to the “$45,000 question”.
Asked by TV3 reporter, Sinéad Desmond, about the diary entries during the same election campaign, Martin was less than categorical during the exchange.
Desmond: “What about the meeting mentioned in The Mahon Tribunal?”
Martin: “I never had a meeting with Bertie and Owen O’Callaghan”.
Desmond: “It’s all there recorded in his diary”.
Martin: “But it wasn’t you see even the tribunal itself didn’t seem to be going into (pause)I don’t want to be going into this because it’s based on the report (pause) didn’t seem to be too clear about it (pause) never any indication in advance that that was going to be raised (pause) I certainly didn’t…(trails off)”
Martin has overseen his party’s slow but steady recovery from the meltdown of that February 2011 general election after taking over from Brian Cowen in a bitter leadership battle just weeks before it was called. As leader of his depleted party he had little power to challenge the Fine Gael-Labour coalition and even less credibility as it picked up the pieces of the shattered economy and adopted some of the austerity policies first introduced by Fianna Fáil.
The strategy was to wait until the Government damaged itself, which it did in spectacular fashion during the water charges debacle and by its arrogance over scandals that erupted around the activities of NAMA and the vulture funds as well as the growing crises in housing and health. Even then, Martin was muted in his criticism and was slow to catch up with the other opposition parties and independents in their call for a Commission of Investigation into the deeply questionable sale of Project Eagle, the valuable Northern Ireland portfolio of NAMA held assets.
The confidence and supply arrangement with Fine Gael since the 2016 election, when his party jumped from 20 to 44 seats, ensured that he could have an influence on government without participation in, or responsibility for, it. Shackled by the agreement, however, Martin could not provide any real opposition including on the key issues that were continuing to damage the lives of so many families as it would involve challenging the Government on substantial issues of taxation and budgetary measures.
For instance, in October 2018, Fianna Fáil supported a motion calling on the Government to invest up to €2.5 billion in the forthcoming budget in a massive spend on public and affordable housing. Days later, they agreed a budget that provided for less than half of this amount. At the same time, his party was promoting generous VAT reductions for the building industry.
Unlike others in his party, Martin could see which way the wind was blowing when it came to the referenda on marriage equality and repealing the Eighth Amendment on abortion. Like Fine Gael, he also wisely kept his party away from any challenge to the popular Michael D Higgins, unlike Sinn Féin which suffered badly from its decision to contest the presidential election.
With public patience beginning to wear thin on the cosy confidence and supply deal between two fundamentally centre-right parties, the Brexit crisis provided him with an excuse to keep it going. Unfortunately for Martin, the strategy of Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney, solidly backed by the EU Commission, made them look like courageous Irish warriors facing down the old enemy as they successfully resisted the imposition of any hard border on the island.
Indeed, Martin has spent more of his time sniping with Sinn Féin over recent years and appeared to miss the significant implications of the Remain vote in the North and how it has re-opened the question of Irish reunification within the EU. It is clearly in the interest of the EU to have its external border with the UK secured and there is no doubt that it would be prepared to make a significant financial contribution to achieve such an outcome. Senior economists in the ESRI and in the civil service and a host of other commentators recognise that preparations for an eventual border poll should be put in place.
Meanwhile, his party continues to win back voters who deserted it previously and it performed well in the most recent local and European elections, particularly in Dublin where the outcome of general elections is often decided.
Fianna Fáil is likely to emerge from the election as the largest party, with polls forecasting that it will overtake Fine Gael and could end up winning up to a dozen extra seats. It will not be enough to form a majority government but it puts him in pole position in the inevitable post-election political haggling. There is many the slip twixt cup and lip and the final week of the campaign could upset the best calculations of pollsters.
It is almost certain, however, that Micheál Martin will be in the best position to form a government over the coming weeks. His trenchant determination not to enter an administration with Sinn Féin under any circumstances may well come back to haunt him, particularly if he cannot form a stable government with any other combination of parties and independents.
Entering another confidence and supply agreement with Fine Gael as the external partners in government is unlikely to wash with the voters if a viable alternative, through majority coalition, is available. Neither is it likely to appeal to many of his own backbenchers and the aspiring ministers among them.
His current parliamentary front-bench team is not overflowing with talent and some of its more effective voices have been damaged by the ludicrous Dáil voting controversy.
In recent days, Martin attacked the Fine Gael bruiser and EU commissioner, Phil Hogan, for making “a partisan intervention” during the election campaign. Hogan, who did not get where he is today by observing political sensitivities, made the rather obvious point that Brexit still poses a serious challenge to the Irish people and economy.
Micheál Martin is understandably nervous as he approaches the final hurdle to his long-held ambition to become Taoiseach. He will need more of the good fortune he has enjoyed so far on his political journey if he is to make it to the top job – and to keep it. Meanwhile he has questions to answer.
The replies, provided by a spokesperson for Fianna Fáil, to the questions posed by Village to Micheál Martin, are evasive and misleading.
Here in full is the exchange:
- Did you have any discussions with anyone in Fianna Fáil or anyone else, including attendees Owen O’Callaghan or John Fleming, about the Fianna Fáil party fund-raiser in the home of Niall Welch in Cork on March 11th, 1994, before or after the event; and what was the substance of any such discussions?
- Are you satisfied that all the monies raised on that occasion were transferred to party funds?
- Did you have any discussions with Owen O’Callaghan about his intended purchase of a site at Horgan’s Quay, Cork in the mid 1990’s before you made statements in the Dáil or elsewhere on the matter?
All of these issues were dealt with in great detail by the Mahon Tribunal eight years ago and are being resurrected now as a threadbare attempt to smear the party leader.
- Can you explain the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the loan on 11th March 2010 on the property you acquired in Meadowlands, Courtmacsherry, in 1999?
The property was bought through an auctioneer with a mortgage in 1999. In 2010, Micheál switched mortgage provider and the loan was restructured to include the balance of this loan and refurbishment of Micheál’s family home. Repayment of this mortgage is ongoing.
- Is there any significance in the fact that the loan was cancelled, according to Land Registry documents, just six days after the company which sold you the property, owned by John Fleming, went into liquidation (on 5th March, 2010)?
None. See above. These questions clearly represent an attempt to raise a controversy in the dying days of the General Election campaign where there is none.
The issues were not dealt with in great detail, or at all, in the Mahon Tribunal.
No evidence was given to the Mahon tribunal, and no conclusions were reached, about any discussions between Micheál Martin and Owen O’Callaghan or John Fleming about the Welch fundraiser.
The tribunal did not ask Mr Martin about any discussions with Owen O’Callaghan about Horgan’s Quay before he made statements about the matter. Indeed Horgan’s Quay was not referred to by the tribunal.
Readers will make up their minds as to whether, after 11 years owning the valuable Courtmacsherry property, it is a mere coincidence that Micheál Martin’s loan was cancelled just six days after the company which sold him the property, a company owned by John Fleming who made an unaccounted-for donation to Fianna Fáil, went into liquidation.
Micheál Martin has a good reputation and has apparently transformed the ethos of once corruptible Fianna Fáil.
However, he has been consistently evasive about his involvements in fundraising, especially with Owen O’Callaghan, found by the Planning Tribunal in a finding upheld by the High Court, to be corrupt, to whom he was close.
No explanation has ever been provided as to who the “M Martin” who met Owen O’Callaghan in 1994 with Bertie Ahern, and who met Frank Dunlop in 1994. The 2011 statement by a Fianna Fáil party spokesperson that the tribunal had accepted his evidence that he was not the “M Martin” named in the diaries by both Bertie Ahern and Frank Dunlop, was dishonest.
Micheál Martin has been around a long time in Irish politics. The political memory of many voters will not extend back that long. The party he leads was venal during much of that time. It is reasonable, as favourite to become Taoiseach in an imminent election, that he answers simple questions about his past.
Addendum: John Fleming
NAMA and other creditors continued to pursue Fleming and his company, Tivway Ltd., over his outstanding debts after his bankruptcy period ended in November 2011, after just 12 months.
In 2012 it emerged that NAMA had appointed accountancy firm, Deloitte, to chase Fleming’s pension and other assets.
In 2009, JJ Fleming (Bandon) was formed with three members of his family as directors of the new construction business.
His son-in-law purchased the Fleming family home in February 2011. John Fleming is reported to have moved back into the home a year later. Christy Hayes, previously a foreman with his company, set up another building company, Donban, at the former headquarters of the Fleming Group in Bandon. It has also been reported that Fleming has attended meetings in the Bandon offices since his bankruptcy ended.
Donban Contracting UK Ltd earned profits of over £1 million in 2017. Fleming was a director of Donban Contracting until 2010 and then became a director of Tide Construction, also based in London.
Frank Connolly is the author of ‘Tom Gilmartin – the Man who brought down a Taoiseach’ (Gill & Macmillan, 2014); ‘NAMA-Land’ (Gill, 2017) and his debut novel ‘A Conspiracy of Lies’ (Mercier Press, 2019).