Thursday 27 October 2016

Redmond: a life marked by greed, corruption and unashamed graft

Deeds of this former public servant can't be erased by charitable descriptions

Published 21/02/2016 | 02:30

FINANCIAL AFFAIRS: George Redmond, above, was part of the memorable cast of the Flood Tribunal
FINANCIAL AFFAIRS: George Redmond, above, was part of the memorable cast of the Flood Tribunal

When it comes to summing up the late George Redmond, his son John put it best in the eulogy he delivered to the hundreds of mourners who gathered to pay their respects to the former Dublin assistant city and county manager last Friday morning.

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"It was the gospel according to George, that's the way it was with him," John Redmond recalled to nods and smiles of acknowledgment from the family, friends and associates who attended his father's funeral in the sylvan setting of St Mochta's Church in Porterstown.

Fr Paul Ward, for his part, described the 92-year-old who passed away last Wednesday morning following a short illness, as a Christian man who had been in "public service for many years".

While there are many people who might beg to differ with that charitable description, having followed Mr Redmond's frequently colourful and at times infuriating post-retirement appearances before the Planning Tribunal and his dealings with the Criminal Assets Bureau, it should be noted that the former Dublin Corporation official's dogged protestations of innocence very nearly saw him arrive at heaven's pearly gates with the proverbial clean sheet.

In terms of the Flood Tribunal, its 2004 interim report finding that Mr Redmond had corruptly received payments from the developer Tom Brennan was withdrawn in 2014 on foot of legal proceedings.

Mr Redmond's imprisonment on criminal charges of corruption meanwhile was to be a short-lived experience after the judgment in his case was quashed on the grounds of being unsafe, allowing him to walk free after serving just six months of a 12-month sentence.

That's not to say George Redmond won every battle in the war he waged to clear his name from being associated with the greed, corruption and unashamed graft that besmirched Dublin's planning process in the 1980s.

Indeed, even as he goes to meet his maker, the finding by the Planning Tribunal in its final report that Mr Redmond had been complicit in the former Fianna Fail TD Liam Lawlor's efforts in 1988 to demand payments of £100,000 (€127,000) for each of them from the developer Tom Gilmartin still stands.

Quite apart from that damning indictment, there were other episodes in Mr Redmond's life that aren't so easily erased from the public memory, notwithstanding the willingness of the Irish as a people to let the sins of the dead die with them.

It was February 1999, when George Redmond arrived off a flight from the Isle of Man in Dublin airport to be greeted by officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau acting on intelligence in relation to his unusual excursion.

A cursory search of the briefcase in Mr Redmond's possession showed that he was carrying approximately £300,000 (€381,000) in cash and cheques, money which he claimed he was bringing home to take care of his legal fees.

The cash in his case represented a mere fraction however of the £1.2m (€1.5m) the former Dublin city official had funnelled through some 20 accounts in various banks and building societies between 1979 and 1989 while subsisting on an annual salary of £29,000 (€36,800).

Having investigated Mr Redmond's financial affairs, the Planning Tribunal found he had been in receipt of regular payments from a variety of builders and property developers since the 1960s. Such was the extent of the monies involved, the tribunal noted that he had benefited to the tune of "one substantial house per annum free".

"These accretions cannot be explained as being the proceeds of savings from Mr Redmond's salary or the interest earned on savings," the tribunal concluded.

Defending his actions, Mr Redmond insisted the monies he had received were in return for advice he had given on issues where the outcome had no effect on the interests of his employers. He also maintained that he had only given advice when asked, and that he had never solicited any of the payments he received.

While the Planning Tribunal's original chairman, Mr Justice Feargus Flood, concluded in his interim report in January 2004 that Mr Redmond had received a corrupt payment of £12,000 from Joseph Murphy Jr of Joseph Murphy Structural Engineering (JMSE) and three corrupt payments, totalling between £16,000 and £20,000, from Michael Bailey of Bovale Developments in the late 1980s, both findings were reversed last year following a settlement of a legal action taken by Mr Redmond against the tribunal.

Also reversed as part of the same settlement was Mr Justice Flood's finding that Mr Redmond, Mr Murphy, Mr Bailey and a fourth man, Frank Reynolds, had sought to obstruct the Planning Tribunal's work.

While it's clear that the former Dublin city and county official's long-running fight against the tribunal paid off in the end with all conclusions and adverse findings against him removed from the redacted version of its final report, there was little he could do to reverse the impact of his appearances as a witness before its public hearings in Dublin Castle.

For while the Flood Tribunal - as it was known and referred to originally - featured a memorable cast of characters which included the likes of the 'whistleblower' James Gogarty, former justice minister Ray 'Rambo' Burke, lobbyist Frank Dunlop and the late Liam Lawlor, the notoriously parsimonious George Redmond presented an extraordinary figure.

Both the journalists who covered the tribunal's business and the hordes of old-age pensioners who used their free bus passes (introduced by former Taoiseach Charles Haughey) to attend, were often left wide-eyed by the sight of Mr Redmond tucking into his packed lunch in between giving testimony in relation to his dealings with developers and other businessmen.

In the course of giving evidence, he claimed variously to have received £25,000 (€31,675) from James Gogarty of JMSE in return for introducing him to Bovale chief, Michael Bailey (a claim Mr Gogarty disputed), and to have been given a personal "thank you" of £10,000 (€12,670) from the late Tom Roche Sr of National Toll Roads plc (NTR) in return for helping to advance the delivery of the West Link toll bridge in Dublin.

Outside of those monies, Mr Redmond claimed had been paid to him for his assistance, there was also the matter of the £50,000 (€63,350) he received from the builder Tom Brennan off the back of winnings from horse races. This, Mr Redmond claimed, had been borne out of Mr Brennan's desire to share his good fortune with him out of "affection and other reasons".

Apart from Tom Brennan, there were others who were especially kind. Mr Redmond told the tribunal, for instance, how the Gallagher Group's Paddy Treacy was minded to let some of their success "rub off on me" with "a little something for yourself, little fellah".

The tribunal's senior counsel Des O'Neill didn't appear to be properly convinced of this, noting: "The something you got from them was five times your salary."

Even in the midst of his tribunal travails, there were still those who found themselves strangely compelled to help George out. Indeed, one city-centre cafe owner thought it might be a nice idea to offer him a free lunch shortly after he began his stint in the witness box. This warm fuzzy feeling wore off, however, as George kept coming back expecting the same deal, day after day.

Of all the names that cropped up in the course of Mr Redmond's evidence to the tribunal, the businessman and amusement arcade owner Jim Kennedy was inarguably the closest to him.

In one jaw-dropping piece of evidence surrounding their relationship, Mr Redmond revealed how he had loaned Mr Kennedy and another individual, the bookmaker Malachy Skelly, a total of £110,000 (€139,370) in 1980 in the absence of any written agreement or formal repayment schedule.

The tribunal heard that while Mr Skelly had repaid £10,000 to Mr Redmond, believing it to be sufficient to cover his share of the lesser loan amount of £40,000 which he had taken jointly, Mr Kennedy had never repaid any of the outstanding capital on this or the £70,000 he had borrowed individually.

While Mr Redmond conceded the loan arrangement with Mr Kennedy had been unusual, he denied that the money was an investment in the lands of a stud farm in Lucan which had doubled in value after being rezoned in the 1980s.

This and the tribunal's other explorations of the relationship between the two put Mr Redmond under pressure that was, at times, almost palpable.

On another occasion, the inquiry's senior counsel Des O'Neill raised the issue of a planning file relating to a house Mr Kennedy had owned in Strawberry Beds in Lucan, which officers from the Criminal Assets Bureau had found in the course of searching Mr Redmond's home.

Commenting on this, Mr O'Neill asked: "Of the hundreds and thousands of files in Dublin County Council about planning applications, one of four found itself in your home, 10 years after you retired. Why did you retain this file?"

Mr Redmond insisted his interest in the file had nothing to do with Mr Kennedy, telling the tribunal that he had been considering the possibilities surrounding a nearby site.

The potential significance of the Kennedy file arose from the fact that the house had been the subject of an application for planning retention just before the local authority had acquired it through a compulsory purchase order to facilitate the construction of the West Link toll bridge by National Toll Roads, a company controlled by Tom Roche Sr.

Mr Redmond said he had no recollection of Mr Kennedy telling him the house had no planning permission.

Sunday Independent

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