Fianna Fáil concealed its knowledge of payment to Ray Burke. Mary Harney has played dumb.
When Bertie Ahern appointed Ray Burke Minister for Foreign Affairs on 26 June, 1997, he certainly knew the following facts:
^ Ray Burke had told him he had received £30,000 from Joseph Murphy Structural Engineers (JMSE) in June 1989, immediately before the general election of that month (the £30,000 in 1989 money terms would certainly approximate to around €100,000 in present money terms)
^ Ray Burke had told him he had given a third of this (£10,000) to Fianna Fáil headquarters, in the course of that election campaign, a supposed reassurance that there was nothing improper about the payment
^ Dermot Ahern told him that JMSE had denied giving Ray Burke any monies – Dermot Ahern had been sent to London by Bertie Ahern to enquire of JMSE whether they had given money for Ray Burke.
On the face of these facts, Bertie Ahern must have realised there was something suspicious about the JMSE £30,000 payment – if JMSE had not paid this money, why would Ray Burke be compromising himself by saying they had paid it? If the payment were above board, why would JMSE be denying they paid it?
Bertie Ahern assured Mary Harney at the time and has claimed repeatedly since, that prior to appointing Ray Burke to the cabinet in June 1997, he had made "extensive enquiries" concerning payments to Ray Burke. Yet, according to himself, he failed to make a rudimentary enquiry of his own party officials about Ray Burke's reassurance he had passed over £10,000 to Fianna Fáil. Had he made such enquiry of his own party officers, he would have discovered that Ray Burke had received a further £30,000 in June 1989 from Tony O'Reilly's Fitzwilton, via a subsidiary company, Rennicks. He would have discovered further that it was from the Fitzwilton £30,000 that the £10,000 transfer had been made.
(In fact Ray Burke received at least £95,000 in the weeks prior to the June 1989 election, for there was a further £35,000 from Century Radio.)
Although he claimed to have made extensive enquiries about payments to Ray Burke, before appointing him to the cabinet in June 1997, he (Bertie Ahern) also claims he made no enquires of his own party officials concerning Ray Burke's assertion that he had passed over £10,000 of the JMSE £30,000 to party headquarters and that party officials never told him until March 1998 of the Rennicks payment. This was so even though two officials, Pat Farrell, the general secretary, and Sean Fleming the former finance director and then (and now) Fianna Fáil TD for Laois Offaly were fully aware of this at least from August 1997 onwards. Bertie's close confidant, Des Richardson, was almost certainly also aware of this payment from August 1997.
Mary Harney was aware from early June 1997 that Ray Burke had received the £30,000. She was informed by Bertie Ahern that £10,000 of this had been paid over to Fianna Fáil. She was prepared to accept the assurance that there was nothing improper about that huge payment and, apparently, she did not enquire if Bertie Ahern had checked whether the money transfer had occurred – a reasonable enquiry since the transfer was seen as an reassurance of the propriety of the £30,000 payment.
If Bertie Ahern had informed her that JMSE were denying making the £30,000 payment, she must have been further suspicious of the transaction but did nothing about it. If he did not inform her of this, she did not subsequently make an issue of the concealment.
In August 1997 the then general secretary of Fianna Fáil, Pat Farrell, asked the former Finance Director of the party, Sean Fleming (who had been elected to the Dáil in the May 1997 election) whether Ray Burke had transferred £10,000 to Fianna Fáil central funds in June 1989. It would be extraordinary if Pat Farrell had made this request of Sean Fleming off his own bat since it concerned a senior minister and the outcome to the enquiry could have been compromising for the Taoiseach and party leader.
Sean Fleming recalled that in June 1989 he and the party fund-raiser, Paul Kavanagh, were expecting a £30,000 contribution from Fitzwilton and had been informed that the contribution had been made via Ray Burke. They asked Ray Burke to transfer the funds and protested when on 8 June, 1989 he transferred only £10,000. He said he needed the remainder for his own election expenses. Sean Fleming went through the party records in August 1997 and confirmed his recollection. He also found a compliments slip from Rennicks, a subsidiary of Fitzwilton.
Sean Fleming informed Pat Farrell of what he had established and did so in the company of a close associate of Bertie Ahern, Des Richardson. Bertie Ahern claims not to have been given this information until March of 1998, even though the information was of central significance to the controversy then surrounding Ray Burke.
The contention is that all of these three, Sean Fleming, Pat Farrell and Des Richardson, further concealed this information from Bertie Ahern after Ray Burke had misled the Dáil in September 1997 in conveying the impression that the £10,000 transfer had come from the JMSE monies, not the Fitzwilton/Rennicks monies.
When Fianna Fáil was making supposedly "full" disclosure to the Flood Tribunal in March,1998, it concealed its knowledge that it was aware that Rennicks had made a £30,000 payment to Ray Burke in June 1989. By then Bertie Ahern was indisputably aware of what had happened and aware that his party was not making a full disclosure. In addition Bertie Ahern then concealed this further information from Mary Harney. Although she subsequently protested, she did nothing.
So, Bertie Ahern, in the course of his "extensive enquires" into payments to Ray Burke, did not enquire of his own party whether the £10,000 transfer had occurred in June 1989.
Then, in August 1997, his general secretary, Pat Farrell, instituted an inquiry into this transfer but concealed the explosive outcome of that enquiry from his party leader and he, along with Sean Fleming and Des Richardson, further concealed their knowledge that Ray Burke had misled the Dáil in September 1997 in giving the impression the £10,000 transfer had come from the JMSE monies. They all, Bertie Ahern included, concealed from the Flood tribunal their knowledge that Fitzwilton/Rennicks had made a £30,000 payment to Ray Burke in June 1989. And throughout all this Mary Harney was kept in the dark about the Rennicks dimension.
The following is the sequence of events:
3 July 1995: A notice appeared in two Irish newspapers offering a £10,000 reward to persons providing information leading to the conviction of persons involved in planning corruption.
The notice was paid for by Colm MacEochaidh, a young (then) Dublin barrister, and environment campaigner, Michael Smith, former chairman of An Taisce (Michael Smith is a shareholder in and director of Village Communications Ltd, publisher of Village).
31 March 1996:
An article in The Sunday Business Post by journalist, Frank Connolly, stated a serving Fianna Fáil TD had been accused of receiving payments for property developers in Dublin in return for securing planning permission for housing.
7 April 1996: Another article in The Sunday Business Post, also by Frank Connolly, stated a former company executive had alleged he was present in June 1989 when a total of £80,000 was paid to a politician by a property developer days before the general election of that month.
11 May 1997: The Sunday Business Post published a further article by Frank Connolly stating that the former company executive, who had made allegations about the senior Fianna Fáil politician, would sign a formal complaint to Garda if given immunity from prosecution.
11 June 1997: Mary Harney and Bertie Ahern met in Buswell's Hotel, Dublin. When Bertie Ahern said he intended appointing Ray Burke to the cabinet, Mary Harney expressed concern that Ray Burke might have received money for planning favours (she told this to the Flood Tribunal in May 1999). She subsequently told Bertie Ahern she had been informed by a director of JMSE, Gay Grehan, that he understood JMSE had made a payment of £30,000 to Ray Burke in June 1989.
20 June 1997(approximately): During the course of a security briefing, as in-coming Taoiseach, from the then Garda Commissioner, Pat Byrne, Bertie Ahern asked whether the Garda had any information concerning planning irregularities and Ray Burke. Pat Burke subsequently telephoned Bertie Ahern to say the Garda had no such information, even though by then James Gogarty had offered to make a complaint to the Gardaí about a senior Fianna Fáil TD concerning planning regulations, if given immunity from prosecution.
24 June 1997: Dermot Ahern went to London, at the behest of Bertie Ahern, to meet Joseph Murphy Jnr of JMSE to discover whether JMSE had made a payment to Ray Burke in June 1989. Joseph Murphy Jnr denied JMSE had made any payment to Ray Burke.
25 June 1997: Bertie Ahern informed Mary Harney (according to her evidence to the Flood Tribunal) that Ray Burke had received £30,000 from JMSE in June 1989 and had forwarded £10,000 of this to Fianna Fáil headquarters. Bertie Ahern said Ray Burke had assured him (Bertie Ahern) there was nothing improper about the donation. Bertie Ahern said to Mary Harney that he had fully investigated the matter.
26 June 1997: Ray Burke appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in the new government formed by Bertie Ahern.
20 July 1997: An article in the Sunday Tribune by Matt Cooper named Ray Burke as the Fianna Fáil TD who received £30,000 from a property company. However the article stated Bovale Developments, owned by Michael and Tom Bailey, was the company that made the contribution.
27 July 1997: The Sunday Business Post published an article by Frank Connolly which quoted Michael Bailey denying that Bovale had made a contribution to Ray Burke.
7 August 1997: Ray Burke issued a public statement, acknowledging he received £30,000 in June 1989 from JMSE but claimed he was asked for, and gave no favours, in return. In that statement he made no reference to the £10,000 he had forwarded to Fianna Fáil in June 1989 – he subsequently explained to the Dáil on 10 September 1997: "I did not refer to the £10,000 contribution to Fianna Fáil headquarters in (that) statement because it was referred to one month earlier by the Taoiseach in response to a question on the matter (this presumably was reference to an interview Bertie Ahern gave to RTÉ's This Week programme in July 1997).
10 August 1997: The Sunday Business Post published an article by Frank Connolly quoting James Gogarty, formerly of JMSE, saying that in June 1989 both JMSE and Bovale made contributions of £40,000 each to Ray Burke.
August 1997 (uncertain date): Sean Fleming the Fianna Fáil TD for Laois Offally and former Fianna Fáil Director of Finance, based at party headquarters, was asked by Pat Farrell, then general secretary of Fianna Fáil, whether in June 1989 Ray Burke had made a £10,000 payment to Fianna Fáil central funds. He inspected the party's financial records and confirmed his recollection that in June 1989 Ray Burke had handed over £10,000 with a compliments slip from Rennicks, owned by Fitzwilton; that he and the then party fund-raiser, Paul Kavanagh, were not satisfied that £10,000 was the full amount received from Fitzwilton, via Rennicks and that Ray Burke informed them that he was retaining the balance for his own election expenses.
On establishing this, Sean Fleming confirmed to Pat Farrell that Ray Burke had handed over £10,000 in June 1989, that this had been part of a larger sum given by Fitzwilton via Rennicks. When he informed Pat Farrell of this in the latter's office, Des Richardson, a close associate of Bertie Ahern was in the room. He claimed he did not inform Bertie Ahern of this information directly because, he maintained, there was an unwritten party rule that issues to do with fund-raising were not discussed with the party leader. (Sean Fleming made these disclosures to the Dáil on 1 July, 1998.)
10 September 1997: Ray Burke made a personal statement to the Dáil. In the course of that statement he again confirmed that he had received £30,000 in cash from JMSE in June 1989 but that there was nothing improper in the making or receiving of the donation. He said he had passed on £10,000 to Fianna Fáil in June 1989, leaving the impression that this £10,000 was from the £30,000 JMSE contribution.
25 September 1997: Magill magazine published an article by John Ryan quoting from a letter written by Michael Bailey to James Gogarty on 8 June, 1989 in which Michael Bailey said he would have to be offered a 50 per cent stake in the Murphy lands in exchange for procuring planning permission from Dublin Country Council.
28 September 1997: Bertie Ahern announced the establishment of a new tribunal of inquiry into the planning history of the 726 acre JMSE lands in north country Dublin. There was speculation that the work of the tribunal would be completed by Christmas 1997, according to The Irish Times of the following day.
7 October 1997: Ray Burke resigned from the government and the Dáil.
March 1998: In a statement to the Flood Tribunal, Fianna Fáil acknowledged that it had received £10,000 via Ray Burke from the Fitzwilton company, Rennicks, in June 1989. It failed to inform the Tribunal that it, Rennicks, had made a £30,000 payment to Ray Burke of which he had retailed £20,000 for his own uses, even though, the party subsequently acknowledged, it was fully aware this was what happened.
Bertie Ahern also failed to inform Mary Harney of this additional information (ie that Ray Burke had received £30,000 from Rennicks in June 1989, in addition to the £30,000 he had received from JMSE and that it was from the Rennicks payment that the £10,000 was forwarded to Fianna Fáil).