The way in which planning decisions are taken in a manner that may affect many people's lives is a matter of legitimate public concern. The people are entitled to the assurance that the public interest is paramount at all times and that such decisions are taken on legitimate grounds, having regard to employment, effects on the environment and other relevant considerations.
The Flood tribunal was established by the Dáil at the initiative of the Government and with the co-operation of all parties to investigate persistent and disturbing allegations of corruption in the planning process. Such allegations, if not addressed, gradually undermine trust in the impartiality of public administration and have a corrupting effect on the business climate and the way in which people view how they are governed. Competitiveness studies show that public integrity and honest administration favours business development, while, conversely, corruption tends to discourage it, so we have every interest, both moral and material, in the integrity of our public institutions.
I am particularly concerned that we in this House, whether in the pursuit of immediate political advantage or otherwise, do not undermine the integrity of the work of the tribunal, especially given the challenges and obstacles which it has already had to overcome to make progress on the task which we have assigned it. It will have to go over, in a more systematic and balanced way, all that we are discussing today and much else besides, with all, not just a few of the relevant people.
Government members from every party have always been willing to discuss projects that have significant job potential with their promoters. Ten years ago, when unemployment ran to 18 per cent or more of the population and stood between 250,000 and 300,000, employment creation was the top national priority. I, as Minister for Labour, was a member of an employment task force and our job was to find, bring forward and encourage projects that would create sustainable employment. I, like other Ministers of all parties, would have held many meetings to discuss such projects.
While one always tries to be positive and encouraging, not all such projects on further examination prove to be viable. Some of them would not have been consistent with plans for the area or with public policy in relation, for example, to the size of shopping developments. In other cases, the conditions and incentives which developers might seek might not be feasible. In short, all construction projects have to satisfy certain planning and other criteria, if they are to get clearance to proceed.
Unfortunately, it seems it is as easy to develop conspiracy theories, usually ill-founded, about why some projects fail to get the go-ahead as it is about why in other cases they succeed. There should never be a basis for the belief that the outcome of a planning application for a project, large or small, depends in any way on the giving or, for that matter, the withholding of a financial contribution to an individual politician or a political party. The purpose of the tribunal is to establish whether there was ever any basis for such a belief and, if that should prove to be the case, to ensure it will never happen again in the future. Anyone in politics who demands or accepts bribes should not be in politics. The work of the tribunals will continue to have my full support and co-operation and that of the Government. I believe and act on the principle that any tribunal of inquiry should be entitled to have all relevant information, documentation and co-operation from me.
The position is that while Mr. Gilmartin, a property developer originally from Ireland but based in Britain, has, I understand, made a submission to the tribunal, he has continued to make allegations outside of it, with some references to me. Mr. Gilmartin made no financial contributions to me and I had no reason to believe last year that I had any relevant information concerning a meeting with him that would be of significance to the Flood tribunal. However, when a matter like this is suddenly given added political significance and acquires an unexpected prominence, I have always been frank, forthright and co-operative about it.
It is not always a simple task to check matters that may or may not have happened many years ago. No one's memory is total or perfect, and it would be impossible without huge resources to keep records of every meeting or encounter in a busy political life. Nonetheless, even where there are gaps in memory, all of us will have a moral certainty about things that in particular situations we would or would not have done. I repeat that I am certain I did not ask Mr. Gilmartin in September 1989 or at any other time to make a financial contribution to Fianna Fáil or to me. It is not my way of doing business. I am not even clear from all the various statements attributed to him that that is what he is consistently alleging.
When this matter first appeared in print, there was no reference to me, nor, to date, has any allegation from Mr. Gilmartin been referred to me for comment by the tribunal. The Sunday Independent last week contained two claims: first, that I raised the question of him making a financial contribution to Fianna Fáil; then, either along with that or perhaps alternatively – it is not clear – after difficulties arose and Mr. Gilmartin had rung me about them, a city councillor, who subsequently arrived to meet him at my request, is alleged to have asked him if he had made a contribution to Fianna Fáil. Former Councillor Joe Burke has confirmed to me that he did meet Mr. Gilmartin but is quite adamant that he did not ask him for or about a contribution to Fianna Fáil, at my behest or otherwise.
Yesterday, on lunchtime radio, Mr. Charlie Bird claimed, after talking to Mr. Gilmartin, that Mr. Gilmartin rang me in September 1989 because some difficulty had cropped up, and, to use his words, I had asked him about a contribution of £50,000. That could not have happened unless he had brought it up in the first place as I would have had no knowledge otherwise about such a sum being given. If he had mentioned giving money, even quite a large sum of money, during the general election to the then party treasurer, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, I would have had no reason to doubt Mr. Flynn.
One thing I am adamant about is that I would not have asked Mr. Gilmartin for a contribution for Fianna Fáil, either directly or indirectly, as twice alleged in the Sunday Independent. The veracity of his various accounts and the statements attributed to him can only be assessed by the tribunal and not by this House. Anyone he makes reference to is entitled to give their side of history and also to question his accuser rigorously. It is not good enough for Members of this House to make heavily loaded political charges that rely mainly on hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations in the media which may have no basis in established fact.
Mr. Gilmartin will need to come and provide direct testimony to the tribunal, on which he can then be cross-examined by or on behalf of those he implicates. That is what he should do, in fairness to the tribunal and to those against whom he makes allegations.
While the media plays a key role in bringing to light matters of concern that would otherwise not come under proper public scrutiny, leaks to the media are not adequate as a vehicle to prove the veracity of statements and allegations. Mr. Gilmartin's assertions are a case in point. They have not been adequately challenged or tested for substance or motive, and the media have even, I understand, been forced to ignore some of his statements and explanations because outside of the legal protection offered by the tribunal they might constitute a libel, if published.
I draw the attention of the House to some hostile political statements attributed to Mr. Gilmartin regarding the future of the Government and of individual members. On FM 104 yesterday at 4 p.m., Mr. Gilmartin was quoted as saying: "Even if Bertie Ahern survives this week, he won't survive what I have coming down the line for him". I leave it for this House to decide whether this sort of threatening language against a democratically elected Taoiseach is something it would wish to condone or support. All Members of this House, any one of whom could be subject to unproven and damaging allegations made with a view to bringing about some ulterior political outcome, should be wary of coming to premature judgments on the credence or otherwise to be given them, in particular when an impartial tribunal has already been set up by the Oireachtas to establish the truth. This House today should not try to supplant the tribunal or try to pre-empt its hearings or its conclusions, however impatient Opposition parties may be to short-circuit the process. A rush to judgment outside the established framework of the tribunals would be wrong for many reasons.
The first Tribunals of Inquiry Act, 1921, was enacted to provide a mechanism whereby investigations of a political nature could be carried out by an independent tribunal far removed from Parliament, where the atmosphere of political charge and counter charge makes it very difficult to properly investigate and clarify the truth or otherwise of allegations.
The issues I am being asked to deal with today fall directly within the terms of reference of the planning tribunal. Without doubt, that is the appropriate forum to investigate all these matters, and I expect the tribunal is already investigating them. I understand, from public statements made by him, that Mr. Gilmartin has already made a statement to the planning tribunal. If the allegations so recently made by him regarding our contacts over ten years ago have been included in his statement, I repeat that I have not so far been contacted by the tribunal about them. I will, of course, be sending a copy of this statement and the transcript of other remarks I have made in the past few days to the tribunal. I believe it is quite wrong that, during the currency of a tribunal of inquiry, attacks of this nature are made against me and other Members of this House. The proper conduct of public policy and a sense of fair play demand a calm and balanced treatment of all these issues, and that is best done in the tribunal.
I will now deal with the question of my meetings with Mr. Gilmartin. When the story appeared in the Sunday Independent, I could only recollect one meeting with him, in my constituency office. My statement issued on Sunday afternoon, in response to media queries, was based quite explicitly on what I could remember. On Monday morning, I made it clear in an interview broadcast at lunch time – but recorded early in the morning – that I had initiated a search of departmental records to try to clarify the position with regard to the number of meetings. I consider that I acted speedily and conscientiously in this regard, and put all the facts that I had on the table as soon as I possibly could. I frankly regard it as ridiculous to claim that putting further information into the public arena reflects on my credibility. It is the action of any honest person to take the earliest opportunity to correct any mistakes or original impressions that prove to be incomplete. There was no calculation whatsoever, simply straightforward behaviour, in making available additional information that came to hand. If somebody brought to my attention today hard evidence of another meeting that took place, I would, without hesitation, put it before the House and not expect that to be made into some kind of hanging offence, particularly when the precise number of meetings may not be particularly relevant.
I issued a statement yesterday, setting out the factual position. I will now put that statement on the record of the House:
Having exhaustively checked my office diaries, as promised, with the help of the Office of the Minister for Labour Affairs, the Department of Finance and my own records, I have been able to establish that the meeting which I clearly recollected holding with Mr. Tom Gilmartin took place in my then constituency office over Fagan's pub on Monday, 10 October 1988. I was accompanied by a local person at that meeting. Arlington, which is the name of one of Mr. Gilmartin's companies, is the name recorded in the diary.
I have also established with the help of my former staff in the Department of Labour that there is a record of another meeting in Mespil Road with Mr. Gilmartin at 10.45 a.m. on Thursday, 13 October 1988. According to the records, I also had a meeting a year later with him on Tuesday, 28 September 1989 at 3 p.m. I still have no specific memory of these meetings.
During my time as Minister, I often had more than 20 meetings in a single day in the Department. I have been reminded by the Office of the Minister for Labour Affairs (formerly the Department of Labour) that at that time I was a member of the Ministerial Task Force on Employment, and therefore I held numerous meetings with groups and companies in an effort to encourage and stimulate employment creation. It is most likely that it was in this context that I met with Mr. Gilmartin.
As I have pointed out before, I am quite certain that I would not have solicited a donation for Fianna Fáil from Mr. Gilmartin, and I have no recollection of any reference made by him to an alleged £50,000 given to the party treasurer, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, in June 1989.
Yesterday, lunchtime, Mr. Charlie Bird reported a further meeting that is alleged to have taken place in Leinster House involving the then Taoiseach Mr. Haughey, the Minister for the Environment, Mr. Pádraig Flynn, myself and others on 10 March 1989. The then Taoiseach's diary contains no record of such a meeting, nor is it recalled by any official likely to have been in a position to know, nor has any record of it, if one existed, so far been found. This does not, of course, absolutely conclusively prove that no meeting took place, but we have no corroboration of it. I would also point out that, post 1987, the then Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, would not have held meetings involving several people on official business in Leinster House. He would have held them in his own office in Government Buildings. It is highly improbable that the Minister, Deputy Seamus Brennan, would have been present at a meeting on 10 March 1989, as he then had responsibility for industry and commerce matters as Minister of State with responsibility for trade and marketing, and no responsibility for transport. He had a lot of other engagements in his diary that day and there is no mention of him attending any such meeting. Meetings involving several Ministers and a business delegation would have been extremely rare. I have no record in my diary of any meeting in 1987, which means it is unlikely I would have attended one if, in fact, it took place.
The diary of the then Minister, Mr. Flynn, shows that he had a meeting with Mr. Gilmartin on 10 May 1989, which was two months later. On 27 July 1989 he wrote a letter to the then Minister of State, Deputy Seamus Brennan, stating his understanding that the bus depot element of the Arlington development at Bachelors Walk would not proceed, and that it would not be included in the national plan or transport operational programme, because the proposal was not sufficiently definite.
Attached to the letter is a note by a civil servant, Mr. Farrelly, stating:
Minister showed me confidential papers had from M/T & T [the Minister for Tourism and Transport]. Project not included in plan sent to Brussels. Vibes negative for short to medium-term.
The operative part of the letter states:
I am concerned that we may be involved in a circular argument here, and I think that we should take steps to resolve it. It is now more than 1 1/2 years since Arlington pledged them selves to a comprehensive redevelopment of the Bachelors Walk/North Lotts area and since the Minister for Finance and myself made statutory orders extending urban renewal designation and tax reliefs to facilitate this. The deadline for completing eligible urban renewal works was fixed under these statutory instruments at 31 May 1991. [The Minister for Finance at that time was Mr. MacSharry].
CIE began negotiations with Arlington about a year ago for the inclusion of a central bus station in the development. It is now common ground that this proposal can run only with Structural Funds assistance; conversely, Arlington would be able to proceed more quickly with a less ambitious, but still very substantial, development if it were clear that the bus station proposal was not a runner.
There is clearly an urgent need to clarify the status of the bus station proposal vis-à-vis the Structural Funds. If you judge it a priority for EC assistance, it would be well for this to be conveyed to CIE and Arlington and for the project to be advanced as energetically as possible with the Commission. If you consider that the proposal should not have this priority, then this should be made clear as soon as possible so that uncertainty will not further delay the re-development of an area targeted for early urban renewal by the Government.
It was further established this morning that there is also in the Department of the Environment and Local Government a record and a report of a meeting that took place on 28 September 1989 between the then Deputy Pádraig Flynn, Minister for the Environment, Deputy Seamus Brennan, the then Minister for Tourism and Transport, Messrs. Dadley, Mould and Boland of Arlington and Mr. T. Gilmartin, who was also on the Arlington team, in the conference room in Leinster House. I wish to read into the record of the House the report of this meeting, taken by a civil servant, Mr. Jimmy Farrelly, the now Secretary-General of the Department.
The meeting took place during the week ended the 29th of September and was also attended by Messrs. T. O'Brien and Doyle of the Department of Tourism and Transport and J. Farrelly of the Department of the Environment. [That meeting actually took place on 28 September].
The meeting took place against the background of three options as put forward by Arlington. The first involved the total development of the overall site, costed at some £250 million. In order to secure this, some £54 million would be required from the EEC, CIE, the Department of Transport or whomsoever. On the basis of discussions which the Minister for the Environment had before meeting with the Minister for Tourism and Transport, this option was clearly not a possibility and the Minister for Tourism and Transport indicated that there was no real possibility of capital funding from CIE, the EEC or his Department on the level required. The second option was for a more limited facility which would provide some 75 per cent of the total overall requirements of CIE. It would need State, EEC or CIE funding to the extent of some £30 million. In the same way this development was not on for the reasons that £30 million of State funding was not available. The third option was clearly indicated as non-viable by Arlington. It involved the development of this site as far as the Halfpenny Bridge for a limited commercial development with no CIE involvement.
Arlington's preferred options would be of course No. 1, but they also regard option 2 quite speculatively, as being one which could be proceeded with, but did of course require some element of State funding for the provision of bus station facilities. Following some considerable discussions, it was accepted that the only realistic prospect of advancing this proposal was to consider the possibility of Arlington providing and financing the bus station on a lease-back arrangement. It was agreed that Arlington have discussion with CIE on this basis and the Minister for Tourism and Transport agreed to seriously consider any proposal put forward along these lines. He recognised, of course, that this also required an element of funding from the State since any such outgoings by CIE would have implications as to the level of CIE subsidy.
These are all from the minutes of the various meetings taken by attending officials.
There is also a manuscript, which states:
Copy of Maps. Showing Arlington site ownership attached – as supplied at meeting. Option 2 is attractive from the planning viewpoint so that it keeps a number of existing buildings on quays and Abbey Street.
That would have been the same day, after Mr. Gilmartin met me on 28 September 1989. There is a parallel note of the meeting made in what was then the Department of Tourism and Transport which made it clear that the two Ministers had a meeting with their officials beforehand. All these document are being given to the tribunal.
I have been asked who instigated the meetings with me. I assume the meeting of 10 October 1988 in my constituency was sought by Mr. Gilmartin. In view of time pressures and constraints, doubtless including other people waiting to see me, I would have suggested he see me in the Department on 13 October. He claims he had some members of his team with him at the latter meeting. Mr. Gilmartin suggests that he initiated the meeting and/or telephone call in September 1989. My general practice when I was informed or briefed about something outside my Department remit, would have been to refer the person to someone more closely involved, other Ministers, perhaps, councillors or officials. I do not have any records of the meetings but neither I nor my party have been in the habit of systematically destroying records.
Something more general should be said about the two projects in which Arlington securities had an interest. The Bachelors Walk project, which involved difficult planning issues, such as the incorporation of a central bus station, the free traffic flows around the area and the need for a new bridge across the River Liffey, fell through for a number of reasons. First, there were delays in acquiring the site. Then British Aerospace acquired Arlington Securities and with a substantial under-utilised landbank of its own throughout the UK decided not to proceed with the project. However, the cause of the project falling was a decision made in London and not in Dublin. Second, the degree of financial support required was not available.
The Quarryvale project included 1.5 million square feet, a vast scheme on the lines of the Newcastle Metro Centre. It was, in its original form, contrary to the County Dublin development plans and Government policies expressed by ministerial directive. The original scheme was replaced by a more modest proposal put forward by O'Callaghan Properties. In neither instance did the schemes proposed ever become the subject of a planning application lodged before the planning authorities, Dublin Corporation and Dublin County Council.
I will now deal with my knowledge of the allegations relating to the EU Commissioner, Mr. Flynn. Some months ago, allegations appeared in the media suggesting that Mr. Tom Gilmartin, an Irish property developer based in Britain, had given a £50,000 contribution in June 1989 to the then Minister for the Environment, Mr. Pádraig Flynn. Fianna Fáil has not submitted an affidavit to the Flood tribunal concerning the non-receipt of the donation of £50,000 from Mr. Gilmartin. The staff member from Fianna Fáil was interviewed by the tribunal. No affidavit was requested. Accordingly, I could not have failed, as alleged in a newspaper today, to tell the Tánaiste about the affidavit because it does not exist.
I recall my programme manager informed me at the time that he referred briefly, at a meeting with the Tánaiste's programme manager, to the fact that Seán Sherwin would probably go to the tribunal in connection with articles that had appeared in the press about that time and that the party was trawling through its accounts and records of the period with a view to full co-operation with the tribunal. In a discussion it was agreed that in general terms party donations would be a matter for the respective parties.
The party's general secretary, Mr. Martin Mackin, at my instigation wrote a letter dated 6 October 1998 marked strictly private and confidential to Ireland's EU Commissioner, Pádraig Flynn, which I will read into the record of the House. The letter will refute the idea that the party did not investigate the matter until very recently. The letter states:
As you are aware there are media reports that a series of allegations have recently been made by Mr. Tom Gilmartin to the planning inquiry presided over by Mr. Justice Flood. Among the reputed allegations is one concerning a sum of £50,000 allegedly given to you and intended for the Fianna Fáil Party.
The Trustees of the party have various legal and fiduciary duties towards the membership of the party. These duties include an obligation to ascertain whether funds were given to any person with the intention that these funds were to be applied for the benefit of the Fianna Fáil Party. In the light of the allegation that moneys were given to you for Fianna Fáil I have been asked by the Trustees to make certain inquires. In the circumstances I would be obliged if you would answer the following questions:
1. Did you or anyone on your behalf receive £50,000 or any other sum of money from Mr. Tom Gilmartin?
2. If so, was this money given to you or anyone on your behalf intended for the Fianna Fáil Party?
3. Was the money passed on to the Fianna Fáil Party?
4. If so, to whom in Fianna Fáil was the money given and when was it so given?
5. Was any receipt issued for same by Fianna Fáil?
I would be obliged if you would give to me any documentation in your possession relating to the said moneys. Furthermore, if you have any further information in your possession relating to the alleged contribution from Tom Gilmartin, I would be grateful to be appraised of same.
I am posing the above questions to you in a formal manner in order that the Trustees will have discharged their duties to the members of the party. I regret any inconvenience that I may cause to you in dealing with the above queries, but no doubt you will appreciate the legal necessity for this line of inquiry.
I note that today's Irish Times reports that you will co-operate with the planning tribunal and I wish to express our appreciation to you for such a constructive approach. Such co-operation with the tribunal is the policy of the Fianna Fáil Party.
I wish to thank you in anticipation of a response to this letter.
Martin Mackin, General Secretary.
Commissioner Flynn's office was telephoned to confirm that the letter had been received and there was also a verbal reminder. However, no reply to the letter has been received. When this matter of the £50,000 payment to Commissioner Flynn arose in the newspapers at the end of September 1998 we made investigations and established that the money had not been paid to the party headquarters.
Neither the Government nor the Fianna Fáil Party have any jurisdiction over the EU Commissioner. While we have expressed the wish that he would clarify the situation as soon as possible he is within his rights to reserve his position until the tribunal, and, undoubtedly, as he has stated, he has important work to do with crucial EU negotiations coming up, which have been a priority in my discussions with him in recent months.
If I understand them correctly, both Mr. Flynn and Mr. Gilmartin have denied that any political contribution was made for favours. They have further asserted that no such favours were given or received. It leaves unresolved the question of whether the political contribution allegedly made to Mr. Flynn was intended for the national party or for Mr. Flynn's own use. It is an issue that not only Fianna Fáil would wish to see resolved as soon as possible, but, I believe, the whole country. As we have seen with regard to allegations in the European Parliament against other Commissioners, unresolved matters of this kind do no good to the reputation of Europe and, in this instance, the reputation of Ireland in Europe.
Officeholders in particular, whether at home or abroad, need to be more forthcoming than private citizens because far more hangs on the trust placed on them. I have had to deal, here and elsewhere, somewhat prematurely with matters which are properly the preserve of the tribunal. This is an unsatisfactory and one-sided process. Given that this issue has been widely publicised and commented upon outside the tribunal, it would be much healthier if Commissioner Flynn would likewise clarify his position, where he can easily do so and clear the air, but we have no power to compel him to do that.
This is an open Administration. We have no desire to hide dark deeds from the past. I wish to see established and maintained public standards of which we can be proud and which correspond with the idealism and integrity that characterised the early Members of Dáil Éireann and our respective political parties. I am especially conscious of the high standards set by the founder of Fianna Fáil. We will strive to live up to those standards of austere integrity and we will not allow anyone to undermine them. I am glad we now have a better system of financing of political parties in place that should not give rise to either abuse or allegations of abuse in the future. That will be healthy for our democracy.
It is a pity that in this House we are frequently too ready to put the worst possible construction on what our political opponents say and do, often on an inadequate basis. Political opponents in these situations try to construct an edifice that build circumstantial and often essentially irrelevant points of detail into major issues of principal and crises of trust. In these situations we habitually fail to distinguish the wood from the trees. In so far as it is within my power, I am determined not to let conflict over what are essentially details cloud the main issues. I do not claim infallibility, but I work exceptionally hard and try to do my conscientious best to honestly represent all the people.