Editorial: Serious questions arise for Bertie

Bertie Ahern has questions to answer about his dealings with Owen O'Callaghan in 1993 and 1994. It seems that guarantees were given to Owen O'Callaghan, who was then about to commence the development of Liffey Valley/Quarryvale (pictured) that another potentially competing development at Blanchardstown would not be afforded tax designation status. Had that happened, the viability of the Liffey Valley/Quarryvale project would have been in doubt. There is a suggestion that Bertie Ahern personally gave this assurance to Owen O'Callaghan.



There is also evidence, it seems, that Bertie Ahern was to make representations in person to a bank in Los Angeles on behalf of another of Owen O'Callaghan's projects, the proposed football stadium at Neilstown. All this occurred at a time that Owen O'Callaghan was giving huge sums to Fianna Fáil, at least £100,000 (€127,000) in 1994.

Aside from that there is the allegation, voiced at the Planning Tribunal, that Bertie Ahern personally received £30,000 (€38,100) from Owen O'Callaghan. This latter allegation seems implausible for there has never been a credible suggestion that Bertie Ahern is himself in any way compromised in this way. But the other issues have to be dealt with by him, independently of the Planning Tribunal's inquiries.

Owen O'Callaghan has sought an injunction preventing the Planning Tribunal, chaired by the judge, Alan Mahon, from continuing with its investigations into the Quarryvale affair on the grounds that the tribunal previously has shown bias towards him and its procedures generally are unconstitutional. The High Court is due to issue a judgement on this in the next few weeks. Inevitably, whichever way it goes, the decision will be appealed to the Supreme Court, which means there is a possibility the issues involved in all this will not be ventilated before the general election.

That must not prevent Bertie Ahern answering the questions relevant to him about all this, well before the election. Going into another election the public is entitled to know whether the Taoiseach, in one of his previous manifestations as minister for finance, was compromised in doing significant favours for Owen O'Callaghan.

The issue is all the more germane because what was involved in the Liffey Valley (Quarryvale) project. There is a huge working class area proximate to Liffey Valley in west Dublin, Neilstown. The plans were for Neilstown to have a town centre, shopping, social and community services, entertainment outlets. But developers thought otherwise. An opportunity to build a huge shopping centre at the junction of the M50 and the road leading out to the west, was hugely attractive. This could be done only if Dublin County Council could be persuaded to forget about the Neilstown town centre and opt for the mega shopping mall instead, a shopping mall outside the radius of most of the people of Neilstown and surrounding area and not at all suitable to the needs of that community anyway.

It is evident that in the endeavour to get Liffey Valley underway, large sums of money were dispersed by Owen O'Callaghan either directly himself or through his lobbyist, Frank Dunlop, to councillors. The only issue here is whether the monies were political donations or bribes – a distinction that is not entirely clear to many people. But it now emerges that Bertie Ahern was helpful to the venture as well.

As part of the PR for the Quarryvale venture, a proposal to build a stadium at Neilstown, instead of the town centre emerged. This now seems like a sweetner, to soften the opposition to the abandonment of the town centre in favour of the mega shopping mall at Liffey Valley. It has now emerged that Bertie Ahern was involved in this as well in having a meeting with the would-be bankers for that project visited in Los Angeles.

Of all the developments that are now in controversy at the Planning Tribunal, what happened in Liffey Valley/Quarryvale seems the most serious. This was not just a case of developers making money out of the provision of more housing, this was a project that robbed a huge, working class community of their town centre, for the enrichment of developers.

The involvement of any "national" politician in such a venture is in itself questionable. Much more so when it emerges that one of the primary developers involved gave huge amounts of money to Fianna Fáil at the material time.

Bertie Ahern should be questioned on this in the Dáil and required to answer all the relevant questions.

Vincent Browne