Fragments 2006-09-28

The chairman of the Morris tribunal is heading towards a fullscale clash with the main victims of the Garda corruption in Donegal that his inquiry was set up to investigate.

Justice Frederick Morris complained last week when two witnesses, Mark McConnell and Michael Peoples, failed to turn up at the tribunal hearings in Clonskeagh in south Dublin.

The two Donegal men who were wrongly accused of serious offences by gardaí now found to have been acting corruptly had signalled their intention not to travel for the hearings due to what they considered an insulting finding about them in a recent report by Morris.

Two other key witnesses, Frank McBrearty Snr and Frank McBrearty Jnr have also made it clear that they will not be turning up to give evidence in the module dealing with their wrongful arrest and interrogation during which Frank McBrearty Jnr was accused, along with Mark McConnell, of the murder of cattle dealer Richie Barron.

They have cited the fact that, while other legal teams are being paid by the state on an ongoing basis, their lawyers and solicitor have no such luxury.

The unfairness of this was illustrated when it emerged during hearings in recent days that a senior garda, Detective Inspector John McGinley had perjured himself in earlier evidence to the tribunal in relation to a statement taken from Roisin McConnell, Mark McConnell's wife.

McGinley's legal costs have been paid in full by the Garda Commissioner despite his flawed evidence. Two gardaí have told the tribunal that McGinley asked that two questions from the written notes of his interview with Roisin McConnell be removed. He had asked her was she a good woman and was she a religious woman and subsequently realised that these were not apropriate questions in the circumstances. Det Garda John Harkin told the tribunal recently that he had altered the notes and removed the questions.



New jail site criticised for poor value

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has criticised the Prison Service for failing to get value for taxpayers money with its purchase of Thornton Hall in north Dublin for the site of a new jail.

In his annual report, published on Wednesday 26 September, the CAG, John Purcell, said the Department of Justice paid more than twice the market value of the land and would have got better value if it had not informed landowners that the purchase was for a planned prison.

"In the circumstances, a well-managed, confidential, third-party approach might have allowed the Prison Service to procure land at a much lower price than was paid for the land at Thornton," he said.

The CAG also criticised the fact that the Prison Service acquired more land than it required for the new jail and the relocated Central Mental Hospital.

"The fact that the land was purchased at a price substantially more than the market price for similar lands calls into question the value obtained from the enlarged acreage," John Purcell said.

His detailed criticisms (predicted by Village in early September) provoked a somewhat piqued response from a spokesman for justice minister Michael McDowell, who claimed that no other suitable sites within a 10 mile radius of Dubln city had been purchased for less since Thornton was bought. The controversy will continue.



Arbour Hill: a great place to live

In recent years, Dublin has increasingly become an undesirable location in which to live – rocketing house prices, traffic problems, crowded schools and some neighbourhoods plagued by anti-social behaviour. So readers will be interested to find out which area won best Dublin neighbourhood. The overall winner was Arbour Hill Prison. The Dublin City Neighbourhoods competition is run by Dublin City Council and is a follow-on from the tidy town's competition.

As well as categories for the best residential area, best commercial area, best school, there is one for environmental initiative – this is the one Arbour Hill Prison won.

In selecting the prison as the overall Dublin winner, the judges singled it out for its waste-management policy. Everything in the prison is recycled – the clothes the prisoners wear, waste from food, sawdust and material from their workshops.

Bernie Lillif, one of the judges said, "This is the first time that a residential group hasn't won in an area.

"You should see the yard in which all their recyclable materials are stored – it should be the standard all businesses and local authorities aspire to...

"We knew there was civic pride there and we wanted to reward it."



Tribunal Watch: The Planning Tribunal

How long has it been now?

The Planning Tribunal (aka the Mahon Tribunal, aka the Flood Tribunal) was set up in November 1997.

What's it about?

Planning matters and bribes concerning 726 acres of land in north Dublin and whether local officials and politicians were paid to rezone it.

How much has it cost?

As of February 2006, it has cost ?47,206,948. Legal fees: a snip at ?23,775,638!

Who's in the witness box?

The late James Gogarty, kicked things off. Chief witness Frank Dunlop has fingered a cast of lovelies, including Ray Burke, George Redmond, Tom Gilmartin and the late Liam Lawlor. Brian Cowen stars in the new module investigating rezoning of Cargobridge.

Any fallout for anybody?

George Redmond was sentenced to a year in prison for tax evasion. It was later quashed.

The tribunal concluded that Ray Burke received corrupt payments from various builders and refused to cover Burke's legal costs because he had obstructed its work. He did six months in jail for tax evasion.

CAB froze lands worth ?61m belonging to Jackson Way, a company at the heart of the tribunal. The land was sold for ?8m, rezoned and the value octupled.

Michael and Tom Bailey made a tax settlement of ?22m. The corporate enforcer has appplied to bar them from directing Bovale Developments.

Will it ever end?

The planning tribunal may not finish until 2020.

Erik Salholm


Well, how else would you travel?

Limo? Boring. Personal jet? Passe. Yacht? A bit 1970s. The ultimate mode of transport for the dementedly rich is the personal submarine.

The Phoenix 1000 is a 65-metre luxury submarine. Bigger inside than an average Dublin apartment, it operates at depths of up to 300 metres.

The price-tag of $78m seems reasonable when you consider that, according to its makers, US Submarines, it is the "single largest private undersea vehicle ever built", perfect for exploring the world's oceans.

For those so demented that ruling the waves like Captain Nemo is not enough, US subs can also build you an undersea "habitat", from where would-be international villains may sip cocktails and threaten the world's governments with nuclear annihilation until they are defeated by James Bond.




New poll shows support for Rossport Five

An opinion poll of residents in Co Mayo reveals continuing deep hostility towards the planned Corrib Gas terminal in Bellanaboy, where angry protestors prevented construction workers from entering the site on Tuesday 26 September.

The poll by TNS/MRBI on behalf of Nuacht RTÉ found that six out of 10 respondents said the gas terminal should be located offshore as demanded by the Shell to Sea campaign. The offshore alternative has greatest support among those under 49 years and those living in the Castlebar/ Ballinrobe/Claremorris and the Westport/Belmullet areas.

Two-thirds of those surveyed supported the stance taken by the five men from Rossport in their defiance of a court order in relation to the Corrib Gas pipeline.

Almost four out of every five adults in Co Mayo felt Shell E&P Ireland handled the situation in relation to the Rossport Five badly, according to the poll.

The company is due in the High Court on 28 September, where a fresh effort to resolve oustanding issues with local residents will be made.



The spirit of Michael Collins

Michael Collins is not dead, it seems. According to a US drinks company "his heroic spirit lives on in Michael Collins Whiskey".

After reading a biography of the famous republican, the late Sidney Frank "felt it was only fitting to create an Irish whiskey named for the legend".

This may explain the involvement of Tim Pat Coogan, biographer of the 'big fella', who helped Sidney Frank Importing Co "establish the authenticity behind the brand and name".

Apparently the rebellious tipple has been going down smoothly in the US and now an Irish importer, Brinkman Beverages, intends to take on the Irish market.

ERIK Salholm


WAG-gate: Tiger and the Dubliner

It was an article penned by an intern at the last minute that has threatened the fragile existence of the Dubliner magazine.

Its home in the magazine is the "Village People" feature written under the pseudonym "Lou Slips", often written by interns and any staff around at the last minute.

Trevor White (pictured) signed off on this page, but didn't notice anything amiss – such as that Tiger Woods' wife, Elin Nordegren, had not in fact posed for porn websites or that the photo accompanying this claim was of a different woman.

The Dubliner is due to enter profitability for the first time this year (pending large legal bills, which may not materialise), largely thanks to the success of its spin-off restaurant guide. The magazine itself sells 3,000 or so copies at cover price, the rest being distributed at a discount or free (including a batch to Mountjoy prison).

The Dubliner's October issue is out on 29 September. In a circular email, Trevor White noted that he was "confident that it will be largely ignored by the world's media, which is really exciting".



Ryanair's wheelchair mix-up

Ryanair has apologised to a 72-year-old woman who was refused a wheelchair boarding a Ryanair flight, despite having a hip injury.

Maureen Barry had to be helped onto her flight from Pisa to Dublin on Friday 15 September by other passengers. As they helped her, they spotted an empty wheelchair sitting on the runway.

Maureen Barry had suffered a spinal and hip injury while on holiday in Italy. The injury left her unable to walk or stand unsupported and with no feeling in her right hip.

She was told at Pisa airport that wheelchairs needed to be booked 24 hours in advance, as a result of Ryanair head-office policy. According to Maureen Barry's son, Damien de Barra, a Ryanair staff member at Pisa asked the captain on the flight if an exception could be made. The captain refused.

Ryanair charges every passenger an "insurance and wheelchair levy" of ?5.54. According to the "Special Needs" section on the company's website,, a wheelchair and assistance can be supplied to passengers free of charge, and must be booked through the "local reservation centre" on the day of booking. We contacted the local reservation centre in Italy, who confirmed that wheelchairs could not be booked for the same day and had to be booked at least 24 hours in advance.

Damien de Barra said he had written to Michael O'Leary to complain and had yet to receive a response.

Peter Sherrard, head of communications for Ryanair, said the handling agents in Pisa "should have readily been able to provide [Maureen Barry] with the assistance sought". He said he had spoken to the handling agents in Pisa "to ensure that this does not happen again" and apologised to Maureen Barry.