Saturday 16 February 2019

A colourful past meets an uncertain future

The former Fianna Fail election agent faces up to seven years in prison if he is convicted

THERE will be little public sympathy for Frank Dunlop, the former lobbyist who appeared in a Dublin court yesterday on 16 charges relating to corruption.

He has, however, following a Pauline conversion, done the State some service by revealing before the Mahon Tribunal that he made corrupt payments to politicians, bribing councillors on behalf of developers to get vast tracts of land rezoned.

The ex-Government press secretary -- who will go on trial at the Circuit Criminal Court next January -- suffers from ill health, has fully co-operated with the Criminal Assets Bureau and is not contesting the charges.

Factors such as his co-operation, early plea and no previous convictions are issues which could mitigate against the possibility of a custodial sentence for the former Fianna Fail election agent, who faces up to seven years in prison if he is convicted.

By refusing to contest the allegations, in essence an admission of guilt, Dunlop will spare those politicians to whom he allegedly made corrupt payments the trauma of giving evidence and facing cross-examination in a very public criminal trial.

There are eight former politicians named on Dunlop's charge sheet, including former Fine Gael councillor Liam Cosgrave and former Fianna Fail senator Don Lydon.

Both men strenuously denied in evidence at the planning inquiry that they sought or accepted bribes.

Since his conversion eight years ago, Frank Dunlop has never wavered from assertions that he made corrupt payments to politicians.

But Dublin Castle and the Four Courts are worlds apart.

Any evidence of corruption or admissions obtained by the planning inquiry may not be used in Dunlop's criminal prosecution, nor that of any other politician who gave evidence before it who is caught up in a criminal probe.

One of the major advantages of the planning inquiry is that it has extensive powers to compel witnesses, such as Dunlop, to give evidence.

But tribunal witnesses are immune from prosecution in relation to any self-incriminating statements they make and prosecutors cannot rely on information obtained by the inquiry in subsequent criminal investigations and proceedings.

Tribunals of inquiry also make their findings on the balance of probabilities, the lower burden of proof used in civil cases.

Criminal prosecutions, which use the standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, is a much higher threshold to satisfy -- a point borne out by the failure to successfully prosecute any gardai following revelations which gave rise to the Morris Tribunal.

Tribunals, can, however, indirectly lead to politicians being placed behind bars.

Former senior cabinet minister Ray Burke served time for tax offences, a conviction largely secured following revelations at the Mahon Tribunal.

The late Liam Lawlor, an ex-Fianna Fail TD, also served time in prison for contempt of court.

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