Tuesday 28 January 2020

Lise Hand: Deal debacle casts a dark cloud over sunny Gormley

Lise Hand

IT was a grand day for a Green minister to be out and about. The sun was shining in a benevolent, non-global-warming sort of way; the immaculate pitch visible through the window of the Croker function-room was even greener than John Gormley's own political credentials, and he was kicking off his day with a positive Green vibe to announce.

The Environment Minister was in Croke Park bright and early yesterday to officially open the two-day Green Economy Expo -- another event in the ongoing march to add a further few shades of viridian, olive and jade to an Emerald Isle currently languishing in the red.

And so the much-touted Smart Economy has kept the Green bits of the Cabinet busy of late, what with talking about wind farms and windmills or -- as in the case of Eamon Ryan versus the IRFU -- tilting at windmills.

Naturally, John couldn't come empty-handed to a conference such as this, and so arrived with an announcement in his back pocket. It was a complicated yoke involving an EU proposal to give small Green firms a chance to procure the sort of lucrative government contracts which are often won by bigger non-eco friendly companies. The minister was a bit chuffed with his announcement.

"Procurement in general is worth about €16bn in terms of state contracts and if we could Green even half of that, around €8bn, it could be of enormous benefit to Irish companies," he explained.

But he could've announced that he, John Gormley, had single-handedly discovered a way to darn the hole in the ozone layer, and little notice would have been taken of it.

No matter how loudly he extols the Green Green grass of home, for John there is no escaping the primordial ooze of that toxic dump, the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, (DDDA) which at every step threatens to turn into political quicksand.

Its sulphurous trail leads everywhere, and it follows the Environment Minister everywhere. Every time things seems to settle down, the DDDA trots back into view and bites the minister when he least expects it.

Once more yesterday, the DDDA was back in the dog-house and there was every danger that Gormley, despite his strenuous efforts to bring it to heel, might be joining it.

One may only assume that the air in the Gormley household turned more blue than green yesterday morning when the news broke that records of key DDDA meetings around the time of the calamitous €426.8m Irish Glass Bottle site deal have gone AWOL.

For the news certainly appeared to have come as a bolt from the blue for John, who admitted that much when he arrived. "I only discovered (it) this morning when I heard it on the news," he explained grimly.

Inevitably, the opposition had made hay over yet another piece of shenanigans from the authority, with Labour's Pat Rabbitte branding the files' vanishing-act as "sinister" and Fine Gael's Phil Hogan calling for an investigation.

Much as he may have felt like lobbing an organic Molotov cocktail through the window of the DDDA office, John Gormley restricted himself to remonstration rather than revolution.

"The very fact that files went missing at the time of crucial economic decision is of huge concern and shows there were serious malpractices taking place at that time," he said.

Gormley also stopped short of declaring that he would launch a full-blown inquiry into the disappearance of the records which related to at least four meetings of the DDDA's finance and risk committees, both of whose membership included the disgraced Sean FitzPatrick.

He tried to put a positive spin on it, repeating that things were different these days, now that his "new broom", DDDA chairman Niamh Brennan was in situ.

But the sunniness of his day had dimmed, leaving his wondering how the hell he found himself up to his neck in the DDDA slime yet again.

Irish Independent

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