Dempsey's secret meeting with the 'important people'
A SENIOR minister was involved in a major row with a former ministerial colleague-turned-lobbyist at a behind-closed-doors meeting in Dublin last week, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Transport Minister Noel Dempsey was attacked by several of Ireland's leading business figures over the cuts in government capital spending, its handling of the economic crisis and the expenses controversy at the private meeting hosted by a leading law firm in Dublin last Thursday.
Also in attendance was Dempsey's former ministerial colleague Tom Parlon, now the head of the Construction Industry Federation.
Sources say Parlon "laid into" Mr Dempsey and the government's cut in capital spending at a time of "famine" in the building sector.
The confrontation is the latest in an ongoing war of words between the erstwhile colleagues.
The meeting of 30 leading business, financial, legal and construction figures was held at the offices of lawyers Mason, Hayes and Curran in Dublin and was conducted under "Chatham House Rules", meaning the details of what was said were to remain private.
However, the Sunday Independent has learned that Mr Dempsey, following a short address in which he attacked the media for being too negative and laid out the government's budgetary strategy, began taking questions from the assembled group.
He prefaced his address with a request that those assembled tell him exactly what they think about the Government and not to hold back. According to sources at the meeting, several in attendance were "extremely forceful" in their criticisms. When it came Mr Parlon's time to speak, things heated up.
Mr Parlon began his comments by referring to a previous attack by Mr Dempsey on him, when he said the construction chief was "talking out of his hat". Mr Parlon responded by saying: "Now, we can all use colourful language, but based on our figures, you haven't a snowball's chance of spending the €5bn next year as promised."
It is believed Mr Parlon referred to analysis that showed the Government was well behind on its own capital spending commitments set out at the end of June.
Mr Dempsey is said to have revealed that much of the €5bn promised for next year will not be used to start any new major projects, but will be used to pay off projects already under way.
Mr Parlon was highly critical of that, saying following the completion of major projects like the Limerick Tunnel, the Aviva Stadium and the Convention Centre, there is nothing left but "Mickey Mouse" developments.
"There is a real famine for decent work out there," he said.
According to sources, the normally combative Dempsey eventually agreed with much of what Mr Parlon was saying.
Mr Dempsey's spokeswoman said the meeting was "convivial but productive".
She said the minister had gone to hear from important people who create jobs on how the Government can be doing more for them.