Monday 23 April 2018

Dunlop's testimony dominates in trial over land rezoning

WITNESS: Former spin doctor Frank Dunlop outside court last week
WITNESS: Former spin doctor Frank Dunlop outside court last week

MAEVE SHEEHAN

FRANK Dunlop turned in his seat to face his inquisitor squarely.

"Are you an honest person?"

"Yes I am."

"Were you always?"

"No, not always."

Thus began Michael O'Higgins's spikey cross-examination of the former government spin doctor and lobbyist on his claims that he paid local politicians to support land rezoning in south Dublin.

It's been a while since Frank Dunlop was seen in public. But as the chief prosecution witness in the corruption trial of an amusement arcade owner and four politicians, Mr Dunlop was firmly back in the foreground last week.

With his claims of "below ground" meetings and money paid to councillors over lunch, which occurred two decades ago, his evidence evoked an Ireland of another era.

One of those on trial is James Kennedy, an amusement arcade owner who lives in Gibraltar. He denies 16 charges of making corrupt payments to councillors between 1992 and 1997 for rezoning 108 acres of land in Carrickmines in south Dublin.

The politicians who were allegedly paid are Don Lydon, 74, a former Fianna Fail senator, councillor and psychologist; Liam Cosgrave, 57, a former Fine Gael senator and councillor; Tony Fox, 72, who is now an independent councillor; and Colm McGrath, 56, a former Fianna Fail councillor who was based in Clondalkin. All plead not guilty to receiving the payments from Mr Kennedy.

When the case opened last week, it was Mr Dunlop's testimony that dominated.

He told how he set up his lobbying and public affairs business, Frank Dunlop and Associates, from an office on Upper Mount Street in Dublin. He had a "mixed portfolio of clients", mostly corporate.

A solicitor, John Caldwell, who worked for Binchys, introduced him to Jim Kennedy, whom he later visited in his amusement arcade on Westmoreland Street, the court heard.

Mr Kennedy allegedly "wanted assistance" in getting his 108 acres of Carrickmines rezoned in the new county development plan that was to be voted on by councillors.

Mr Dunlop said Mr Kennedy "recognised" that councillors would need to be paid money for their services.

Mr Kennedy allegedly agreed to give him IR£25,000 – which Dunlop later referred to as a "war chest" for lobbying councillors – and a success fee of IR£100,000 for himself.

He explained in detail to the court what he claims he was retained to do: get two councillors to propose and second a motion to rezone the land that councillors would eventually vote on.

If passed it would be included in the county development plan.

Mr Dunlop contends he needed local councillors, ideally from opposing parties, to suggest cross party support.

He met them "in some instances, without reference to money, in other instances with specific reference to money".

He named the now deceased councillors, Sean Gilbride, Jack Larkin and Cyril Gallagher, on the Fianna Fail side. He met Tom Hand, also deceased, on the Fine Gael side. Then he named the four accused politicians: Mr Lydon, Mr Fox, Mr McGrath and Mr Cosgrave.

He described meetings in Conway's pub, near the council offices, the Gresham Hotel, and Buswells and the Davenport hotels.

He claimed he gave Sean Gilbride and Mr Gallagher £1,000 each whilst Tom Hand, who proposed the motion, got €3,000.

He claimed he went to Don Lydon's workplace, at St John of God's Hospital in Stillorgan, where the then councillor signed the motion. Mr Dunlop claimed he "gave him £3,000".

He claimed that he paid Tony Fox £2,000 on the street outside the council offices and travelled to Clondalkin to meet Colm McGrath, whom he claims to have paid. He claimed he gave Liam Cosgrave £2,000.

They were all cash payments, he claimed: "I don't mean to be facetious but there was only one currency, cash."

The vote to rezone the lands was defeated. But four years later, the opportunity arose again, when the Carrickmines lands came under the ambit of the newly formed Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

Mr Dunlop said, on the stand, that he met Jim Kennedy again. This time, Mr Dunlop said he insisted he would have to be paid. He claims to have negotiated a success fee of £250,000 that he later re-negotiated to the commercial value of one rezoned acre of land. He claimed he paid Liam Cosgrave and Tony Fox £5,000 each, which he paid in tranches before and after the vote.

Mr Dunlop was dressed immaculately and seemed relaxed, his hand resting on his chin while he gave evidence. When asked for a job description he replied "involuntarily retired".

His verbal flourishes were described as "inane sound bites" by Michael O'Higgins, the barrister who cross-examined Mr Dunlop on behalf of Jim Kennedy. Under Mr O'Higgins's questioning, Mr Dunlop admitted that he had lied to the Flood tribunal on planning corruption about bank lodgements and that he had redacted entries in his diaries.

The trial also heard how he later pleaded guilty to corruption charges and served 13 months in jail.

Mr Dunlop said that in general he was an honest person. Mr O'Higgins replied: "We will look at that over the course of the trial."

The cross-examination of Mr Dunlop is expected to continue this week.

Irish Independent

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