Thursday 21 September 2017

'I've balls of iron and a spine of steel, and if I don't make money here, I'll make it somewhere else'

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

FRANK Dunlop will always be remembered for passing the point of no return on a dramatic day back in April 2000.

He had been told by the Flood Tribunal to reflect on his evidence overnight after it discovered secret payments made to him. When he returned to the tribunal in Dublin Castle, he caused a sensation by providing a list of politicians he had allegedly bribed in return for rezoning votes.

It was the tribunal's single biggest breakthrough. With one of his trademark flourishes, Mr Dunlop said he was "crossing the Rubicon" – just as Julius Caesar had passed the point of no return by crossing the Rubicon river with his army to wage war on Rome.

But the Mahon Tribunal had reservations about Mr Dunlop's conversion and described him as a "problematic witness" in its final report last year.

Mr Dunlop once had the ear of several Taoisigh and easy access to some of the most powerful officials in the country.

The Kilkenny-born lobbyist served under Taoiseach Jack Lynch as the government press secretary in 1977; went on a shirt-buying spree with the next Taoiseach Charles Haughey in Paris in 1980; and was appointed by former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in 1992 to improve his personal image.

He was found by the Mahon Tribunal – the name given to the tribunal after Mr Justice Flood retired – to have developed a lucrative sideline, which was passing on huge sums of money from developers to councillors who were involved in rezoning decisions, and keeping a slice for himself.

Mr Dunlop became involved in several of the most controversial rezonings in Dublin in the 1990s. It was one of his rare failures to get what he wanted that led to his most famous quote: "I have balls of iron and a spine of steel and if I don't make money here, I will make it somewhere else."

The Mahon Tribunal calculated that he had access to a "war chest" of over IR£500,000 (€634,000) in the early 1990s for making payments to councillors. It found that his simple strategy of making "relatively modest" payments of IR£1,000 to IR£2,000 (€1,269 to €2,539) to councillors in return for rezoning votes produced enormous financial rewards for the landowners. And it found that it produced substantial rewards for Mr Dunlop himself.

Many of his meetings with developers and councillors were listed in his diaries and he tried to hide some entries by writing over them. He said he was "doodling". But the tribunal got in the FBI, which was able to uncover some of the information.

Mr Dunlop's public fall from grace was completed in 2009. He got an 18-month jail sentence after pleading guilty to corruptly giving cash gifts to several Fianna Fail councillors, who all denied that it was a bribe. Mr Dunlop was released from jail in July 2010.

Irish Independent

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