Wednesday 19 December 2018

'Enormous bribe' bought minister's help for Century

Fergus Black

FORMER Communications Minister Ray Burke received an "enormous" £35,000 payment from Century Radio promoter Oliver Barry as a "bribe" and not as a political contribution, the Flood Tribunal interim report reveals.

The money, which was handed over in cash by Mr Barry in Mr Burke's ministerial office in May 1989, came four months after Century was granted its national radio licence by the Independent Radio and Television Commission.

Mr Burke claimed that Mr Barry offered the £35,000 "of his own volition" as a political donation.

But the tribunal rejects that assertion, concluding that the contribution was a "corrupt payment" made in response to a demand for £30,000 in cash by Mr Burke.

It says the payment was not made as a contribution to election expenses in Dublin North.

Instead, it was made in response to his request for money at a time when the promoters believed it would help their private interests if they paid the sum to the former minister, as Mr Burke would then act in Century's interests when performing his public duties, both as the Minister for Communications and as a member of the Government.

Century was the country's first independent national radio service, but within 18 months of its launch, in 1989, it collapsed in financial ruin.

The tribunal heard how Mr Burke slashed the transmission fees RTE had planned to charge Century and also capped the amount RTE could earn from advertising.

In a hard-hitting indictment of the motive for the £35,000 payment, the tribunal report says the money ensured Mr Burke was available to serve the interests of Century's promoters.

This was shown by his willingness to meet their bankers and to assure them he was willing to introduce legislation to Century's financial benefit.

"The payment to Mr Burke was seven times greater than that which was made to the party or to an Taoiseach.

"The tribunal is satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that such a payment to Mr Burke would not have been made by Mr Barry on his own initiative.

"The amount handed over was enormous. In the context of Mr Burke's then income, it represented a sum which almost equated to his gross income as the holder of two ministerial offices and certain additional private income," said the report.

In proposing legislation that would have curbed RTE's advertising revenue, altered the format of 2FM and diverted licence-fee income from RTE to independent broadcasters, Mr Burke was "acting in response to demands made of him by the promoters of Century and was not serving the public interest".

The report leaves no room for doubt that Mr Burke might have intended the money to go to Fianna Fail. The tribunal concludes that Mr Burke tried to conceal from it the payment's true nature.

Had he intended to use the funds to help re-elect a second Fianna Fail candidate in his constituency, it said, there would have been evidence that he had spent at least some of the money during the campaign.

"The tribunal believes that the manner in which Mr Burke dealt with this payment is inconsistent with it having been acquired for any legitimate political purpose.

"The tribunal is satisfied that Mr Burke treated this money as his own, to do with as he pleased, and that he had solicited the payment from Mr Barry on that basis."

According to the interim report, Mr Barry was reluctant to provide documentary evidence of the payment because he knew it was a corrupt payment for which Mr Burke would not issue a formal acknowledgment or receipt.

"The tribunal is satisfied that at the time of the payment of the monies to Mr Burke, Mr Barry knew that the sum was a payment to Mr Burke to be used for his own purposes and that it was not a political donation either to Fianna Fail or to Mr Burke, although Mr Burke used those words in making his demand of Mr Barry for £30,000 in cash."

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