Ahern associates to give evidence

Paul Cullen tells us that:

Two of the Taoiseach’s long-time associates are to give evidence in a new module of the planning tribunal to start today.

Robert White, who went to school with Bertie Ahern, and Tim Collins, one of the trustees of his Drumcondra office, are scheduled to give evidence about a planning issue in Swords.

Former Government press secretary Frank Dunlop alleges Mr White paid him £5,000 to lobby county councillors for the construction of a hotel on the land.

Mr Dunlop claims he gave Fianna Fail county councillor Cyril Gallagher £2,000 in the Grand Hotel in Malahide in the early 1990s for his support.

He says Mr White told him he had discussed the matter with Mr Gallagher and local TD GV Wright. Mr White and Mr Wright deny any impropriety, while Mr Gallagher died in 2000.

The land was owned by the Duff family but Mr White, a jeweller and property developer, represented a consortium, Nosaka Ltd, formed to develop the hotel.

Cross-examination of Mr Dunlop on the Ballycullen rezoning in south Dublin is due to finish today, bringing that module to a close. In the afternoon, he will give evidence in the new module on the Duff lands.

Mr White was involved in a controversial attempt to build a casino and conference centre on the disused Phoenix Park racecourse in the mid-1990s. An Bord Pleanala gave the £375 million project the go-ahead but it foundered when politicians refused to sanction a casino licence. Having bought the site in 1993 for £10 million, Mr Turner and his business partner sold it in 1998 for £35 million to a firm of housebuilders.

In 2000, another associate of Mr Ahern’s, Des Richardson, said he had been approached by a director of the project – understood to be Mr White – to ask Liam Lawlor to act as a consultant. At the time, Mr Lawlor claimed he had been offered £100,000 to lobby for the project.

Mr Collins’ involvement in the Duff lands is unclear, but he has acted as an intermediary between Mr Dunlop and developers in other developments.

Separately, the tribunal is investigating the acquisition by the State of the Battle of the Boyne site in Co Meath from a company in which Mr Collins was involved. In 2000, the OPW paid £9.4 million for the site acquired by Mr Collins and his partners for £3.43 million three years earlier. Mr Collins was also present at a meeting between the Taoiseach and developer Tom Gilmartin in 1988.

The Duff module is expected to last just a few days.