The Quarryvale payments
The Mahon tribunal has been investigating since 1998 claims by Tom Gilmartin that a developer made two payments to Bertie Ahern. By Frank Connolly
The planning tribunal has been investigating Bertie Ahern's financial affairs since it first heard allegations in 1998 about alleged bribes he received from Cork developer, Owen O'Callaghan.
Tom Gilmartin was O'Callaghan's former partner in the development of the Quarryvale, now Liffey Valley, retail scheme in west Dublin. He claimed in interviews with this reporter in 1998/99 – before he entered into a confidentiality arrangement with the tribunal – that Owen O'Callaghan informed him Bertie Ahern was given two payments of £50,000 and £30,000, in 1989 and 1992/1993 respectively. He subsequently informed the tribunal of the same thing.
The first payment, Gilmartin claimed, was in connection with a land deal at Quarryvale where he (Gilmartin) had assembled a large site for his ambitious business park and retail development at the junction of the N4 and the M50 ring road.
Gilmartin had complained to Ahern at a meeting in the latter's constituency office over Fagan's pub in Drumcondra in 1988 that he had met with resistance from assistant city and county manager George Redmond to his plan to purchase the land, owned by Dublin Corporation, at Quarryvale.
Redmond and then Dublin West TD Liam Lawlor were, Gilmartin believed, seeking to have the land sold to rival developer, Green Property, in an effort to block his (Gilmartin's) plans to assemble the full, commercially-viable site.
Ahern arranged for his associate, Joe Burke, who was also vice-chairman of the Corporation committee responsible for land disposal, to meet with Gilmartin and to hear his concerns. Gilmartin subsequently purchased the land from the Corporation in the spring of 1989.
He told tribunal lawyers when he met them in 1998 and 1999, before he signed a formal and confidential statement, that he mentioned to Owen O'Callaghan in late 1989 that he intended to approach Ahern, then Minister for Labour, in relation to other difficulties he was having with the Quarryvale project. At the time he was under pressure from his bankers, Allied Irish Bank, to bring Owen O'Callaghan on to the board of his company, Barkhill, in order to progress the Quarryvale/Liffey Valley development.
When he told O'Callaghan he believed Ahern was one of the few politicians that would assist him, Gilmartin claims O'Callaghan said the successful purchase of the corporation land was because that he (O'Callaghan) had paid Ahern £50,000 for the favour. Both O'Callaghan and Ahern have always denied that any such monies were paid and Ahern has repeated this consistently both at the tribunal and recently in Dáil Éireann.
The allegations have been in the public domain for some time and were also revealed in the opening statement at the tribunal on the Quarryvale II module in November 2005.
Gilmartin also told the tribunal about conversations he had with O'Callaghan after the Cork developer joined the board of Barkhill in September 1991. At a board meeting in AIB headquarters in Ballsbridge in 1993, Gilmartin expressed his concern that the rival Blanchardstown centre, which Green Property was building at the time, might obtain a lucrative tax designation from the government.
According to Gilmartin, O'Callaghan left the meeting and returned after making a lengthy telephone call. When he returned, according to Gilmartin, O'Callaghan said he had got it "from the horse's mouth" that Blanchardstown would not be designated under the urban-renewal incentive scheme. A senior bank official, Michael O'Farrell, has also said O'Callaghan told him he had similar government assurances in relation to the non-designation of Blanchardstown. Gilmartin claims O'Callaghan told him he had paid £30,000 to Bertie for the favour.
The tribunal opened the hearings into what is known as the Quarryvale II module in November last. In its opening statement, the tribunal set out details of the alleged payments to Ahern by O'Callaghan.
The hearings were halted when the Cork developer took High Court proceedings to stop the tribunal's investigation alleging that its proceedings were biased against him. A reserved judgment on his application to stop the tribunal will be made on 12 October in the High Court.
In the course of its inquiries, the tribunal also sought details of Ahern's financial settlement, made in the early 1990s, with his estranged wife, Miriam. Bertie Ahern and his wife have taken proceedings to stop the tribunal from accessing details of the settlement they reached following their separation.
The alleged payments described by Gilmartin are separate from the false claims made by Denis "Starry" O'Brien to the Sunday Business Post between 1998 and 2000 and over which Ahern successfully sued O'Brien for libel in the Circuit Court in 2001.