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Councillors played key planning role

DUBLIN councillors were paid tens of thousands of pounds in bribes because of the pivotal role they played in deciding what lands could be developed.

Every six years, local politicians review their county development plans. These plans set out where houses can be built, what sites are suitable for shopping centres and where industrial parks should be sited.

The councillors played a key role in adopting those plans, enjoying significant powers. While officials made recommendations, each plot of land earmarked for rezoning had to be put to a vote of the council -- meaning the politicians had the final say.

This meant that a developer who spent millions on a plot of farmland, in the hope that he could build houses, could be stuck with a worthless site for years unless councillors rezoned the land. The incentive to make corrupt payments was obvious -- for just a couple of thousand pounds, councillors could be 'bought' and their votes used to push a rezoning motion through, often against the advice of officials.

The Quarryvale planning saga tells the story. From the early 1990s, lobbyist Frank Dunlop began bribing councillors to push through a rezoning motion to rezone 170 acres of land in Clondalkin.

The vote was passed with the help of the corrupt politicians, and one of the country's biggest shopping centres, Liffey Valley, was built. Both sides won. The councillor had money in the bank, and the developer was now sitting on a plot of land potentially worth millions and far in excess of what was paid for it.

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