"The Government have clearly sent the message to Shell, ‘you can do whatever you want’. Fortunately due to protest, the refinery remains unconnected to the gas field. If, as Shell planned, gas had been flowing by now, we would potentially all be dealing with a gas leak and explosion.”
Corruption affected every level of government from cabinet ministers to local councillors during two decades of political dominance by Fianna Fáil, according to the final report of the planning tribunal.
The report, published yesterday, accused former taoiseach Bertie Ahern of untruthfulness. It found former European commissioner Pádraig Flynn behaved corruptly, and said another former taoiseach, Albert Reynolds, had abused his power.
Mr Ahern last night strongly disputed the report’s conclusions, saying he was incredulous at what he described as “objectionable and inaccurate” findings. He said he would be looking to vindicate his name.
The report also found some individuals at lower levels in Fine Gael and one former Labour councillor had been guilty of improper behaviour.
“Corruption in Irish political life was both endemic and systemic. It affected every level of government, from some holders of top ministerial offices to some local councillors, and its existence was widely known and widely tolerated,” said the report.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced the Government was referring the report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission. A three-day Dáil debate on the report will take place next week.
Mr Kenny said the report revealed “corrupt practices” by a number of politicians and contained “a litany of unacceptable statements from the former taoiseach” Bertie Ahern.
The tribunal found Mr Ahern had given untrue evidence about his personal finances, including lodgements to accounts that the tribunal found were large sterling and dollar cash lodgements.
The tribunal found Mr Ahern knew the true source of some lodgements investigated by the tribunal, but chose not to disclose their origin.
It also rejected the evidence of Mr Ahern and others to the effect that collections or “digouts” occurred in 1993 and 1994 that resulted in Mr Ahern being given £22,500 and £16,500.
The tribunal said it was satisfied a lodgement of £28,772.90 on December 5th, 1994, by Mr Ahern’s then partner, Celia Larkin, to an account in her name but to be held for Mr Ahern’s benefit, was not the proceeds of a payment by Manchester businessman Micheal Wall. The tribunal said it was satisfied it was in fact the result of the lodgement of $45,000 in cash.
The report said because Mr Ahern did not give a true account as to the source of money lodged to his accounts, the tribunal had not been able to identify where the money came from. For that reason, it could not determine whether Mr Ahern had received corrupt payments from developer Owen O’Callaghan.
The report also said while the tribunal was inquiring into matters relating to Mr Ahern in the 2007-2008 period, it “came under sustained and virulent attack from a number of senior government ministers who questioned, inter alia, the legality of its inquiries as well as the integrity of its members”.
It added: “There appears little doubt that the objective of these extraordinary and unprecedented attacks on the tribunal was to undermine the efficient conduct of the tribunal’s inquiries, erode its independence and collapse its inquiry into that individual.”
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said in advance of a party meeting last night he accepted the findings of the tribunal. He added the people identified in the tribunal report had “betrayed the trust put in them by the public”. He also agreed the report should be referred to the DPP. He has scheduled a press conference for today to provide a detailed response to the tribunal findings.
The behaviour of former Fianna Fáil minister Pádraig Flynn came in for severe criticism in the report, which accused him of giving “astounding, incredible and untrue” evidence.
The report found he had “wrongfully and corruptly sought a substantial donation” from developer Tom Gilmartin for Fianna Fáil, and having been paid IR£50,000 had proceeded to “utilise the money for his personal benefit”, the report states. Part of the £50,000 was used to buy a farm in Cloonanass, Co Mayo, in the name of Mr Flynn’s wife Dorothy.
The report found the behaviour of former taoiseach Albert Reynolds and of Mr Ahern in pressuring a businessman for a donation to Fianna Fáil was “an abuse of political power and government authority”. It condemned involvement of such senior government figures in seeking financial contributions from businessmen who were in turn lobbying government to support various commercial projects.
The tribunal made more than 100 recommendations, including the appointment of a planning regulator, wider disclosure of interests by public officials, restrictions on political donations and a code for lobbyists.
Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan is expected to appoint a team of senior officers to review the report, with a view to deciding if people named in it should be investigated. Those found to have made or received corrupt payments could be charged with criminal offences.
Politicians who received payments could be investigated by the Criminal Assets Bureau. Developers who profited by having land rezoned after making corrupt payments could also be targeted by the bureau.
A spokesman for the Garda said the force had no comment to make until the Government had formally sent the report.