Thursday 17 August 2017

Cowen gives the green light for probe into docklands body

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night paved the way for investigations by two state watchdogs into the Dublin Docklands Development Authority (DDDA).

Mr Cowen, who has faced criticism for sanctioning DDDA borrowings for the ill-fated €426.8m Irish Glass Bottle site deal, said he would endorse plans being brought to Cabinet by Environment Minister John Gormley in the coming weeks.

The Green Party leader wants to change the law to allow the Comptroller & Auditor General (C&AG) and the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigate the scandal-hit authority.

Although the proposed investigations could prove politically damaging for Mr Cowen, he indicated last night he would support Mr Gormley.

Opposition TDs said last night they hoped the investigations would focus on the influence Anglo Irish Bank exerted over the authority through the cross directorships of Lar Bradshaw and disgraced former Anglo chairman Sean FitzPatrick.

They also called for scrutiny of Mr Cowen's role in the lead-up to the Irish Glass Bottle site sale.

While Mr Cowen was finance minister in 2006, he allowed the authority borrow up to its statutory limit of €127m so it could join the Becbay consortium which bought the site.

The DDDA's main partners in the consortium were developers Bernard McNamara and Derek Quinlan.

It emerged earlier this year that Mr Cowen took just 14 days to consider the DDDA borrowing request. It also emerged that Mr Cowen made the decision based on an estimate provided by the DDDA that the site would be worth just €220m.

Within days of Mr Cowen's decision, Becbay purchased the site for double that estimate. Some €109m of the purchase price was paid by the DDDA.

But following the collapse of the property market, the DDDA's 26pc stake in the site is now virtually worthless and the authority has been left crippled by €5m-a-year interest bills.

Mr Gormley announced his plans for C&AG and PAC investigations yesterday following revelations in the Irish Independent that records of authority meetings around the time of the Irish Glass Bottle site deal could not be found.

Confusion

Following a further review of its records yesterday, the authority released a statement blaming "administrative confusion" for the lack of documentation on meetings. "These issues have been addressed under the current board, chaired by Professor Niamh Brennan," the statement said.

Mr Gormley, who is expected to publish reports on finance and planning at the authority in the coming month, said the minutes controversy was "of huge concern and it shows that there were serious malpractices taking place at that time".

Mr FitzPatrick sat on the DDDA committees whose records are at the centre of the minutes controversy.

Both he and Mr Bradshaw were directly involved in the authority's decision to join Becbay, despite the clear conflict of interest from the fact their own bank was providing finance for the Irish Glass Bottle deal.

Fine Gael environment spokesman Phil Hogan said an investigation was long overdue.

Irish Independent

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