Ray Burke: 'I'm glad that justice has been done'
Now Bertie weighs up latest Tribunal U-turn
Former Fianna Fail minister Ray Burke has broken his silence and said that "justice has been done" following a decision by the planning tribunal to withdraw findings of corruption against him.
"After 18 years I'm glad that justice has been done. I welcome this, obviously. Now, I just want to get on with the rest of my life," Mr Burke told the Sunday Independent at his home in Drumcondra last Friday.
The former justice minister received the news of the tribunal's decision to withdraw all findings of corruption against him, which had been based on the evidence of its original star witness, James Gogarty, last Tuesday.
In a letter addressed to Mr Burke's lawyer, Vincent Shannon, solicitor to the tribunal Susan Gilvarry confirmed tribunal lawyers were "currently reviewing the [second interim] report for the purpose of removing the above mentioned findings". Ms Gilvarry confirmed that the tribunal had been directed that its second interim report be "removed from its website and all findings of hindrance and obstruction" against Mr Burke "be removed from that report".
Lawyers for former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, meanwhile, are understood to be monitoring ongoing developments in relation to the tribunal closely, and considering what possible application they may have to his dealings with the inquiry.
The tribunal's decision to reverse the findings it made against Ray Burke, based upon the evidence of Mr Gogarty, arise from a ruling by the Supreme Court last July.
Delivering its judgment in a case taken by Joseph Murphy Structural Engineering (JMSE) against the tribunal, the court expressed its concern over the manner in which Mr Gogarty had been handled and presented in evidence. "Potentially explosive" material had been withheld, the Supreme Court found.
The tribunal's decision to withdraw its key finding of corruption against the former justice minister represents just the latest climbdown for the inquiry.
Only last month, the tribunal withdrew all conclusions and findings of corruption against former Dublin city planning official George Redmond on foot of an agreement made during the settlement of his High Court action. The tribunal also agreed to pay Mr Redmond's legal costs.
In the revised version of its original 2004 report on Mr Redmond, the tribunal also removed findings of corruption against the developer Michael Bailey and JMSE's Joseph Murphy jnr. A finding of hindrance and obstruction against Mr Redmond, Mr Bailey, Mr Murphy and a fourth businessman, Frank Reynolds was also removed.Leaving aside the cases of Mr Redmond and Mr Burke, the tribunal now faces the prospect of being challenged by others against whom it has made adverse findings. Commenting on the tribunal's latest U-turn, Fianna Fail TD Willie O'Dea said: "The pillars on which the tribunal built its edifice are collapsing. We are facing an appalling vista."
Bertie Ahern's lawyers are understood to have noted with interest the Supreme Court's concerns in relation to the tribunal's withholding of "potentially explosive" material in the case of evidence given to it by Mr Gogarty. With no findings of corruption made against him by the tribunal, it is understood Mr Ahern is awaiting imminent decisions in matters which are being pursued by two of his close friends - businessman Des Richardson and publican Dermot Carew - with the tribunal. While Mr Richardson's lawyers are engaging with lawyers for the tribunal directly, Mr Carew is pursuing a case through the courts.
Should Mr Ahern's associates prevail, it would, according to a source familiar with the matter, prove that the two so-called "dig outs" which the former Taoiseach claimed to have received from friends and associates while serving as finance minister had taken place. In its final report, the tribunal rejected evidence given by Mr Ahern and others that the collections had ever occurred.
Last July, publican Charlie Chawke successfully challenged the tribunal in the High Court on the basis that it had breached fair procedures in finding he had not cooperated in his evidence about a 'dig-out' for the former Taoiseach.
Ms Justice Marie Baker noted Mr Chawke hadn't been given an opportunity to deal with the fact of the payment to Mr Ahern. She said none of the vitiating factors, such as frailty of memory, that might have allowed the tribunal to conclude Mr Chawke had not knowingly been untruthful, had been present.
She ruled that the "deductive reasoning" process under which the tribunal found he had not cooperated was not arrived at by fair procedures.