herald

Wednesday 15 August 2018

The frenzy started from the day I was elected ... developers asked me out for tea and turned up outside my home -- Joan

MINISTER Joan Burton said developers and lobbyists bombarded her with offers the moment she was first elected as a councillor.

THE Minister for Social Protection revealed in a frank interview with the Herald that the system of developers specifically targeting politicians on the cusp of the building boom was akin to a "frenzy".

Ms Burton said she recalled seeing lobbyist Frank Dunlop "ticking off" the votes cast by councillors in relation to the development plan in Dublin.

The Labour minister was recognised by the Mahon Report for her role in preventing some of the excessive development in the Dublin region -- she consistently opposed rezoning at Quarryvale, now Liffey Valley.

And the west Dublin TD, who first raised concerns over a cash-for-votes scandal as far back as the 1990s, said that the planning system was not fully flawless.

"I became councillor to the old Dublin City Council in 1990. Almost on the day I was elected, the election count was hardly over and there were people approaching me about this and that development, to look at this map, inviting me out to breakfast or tea," she said. "Then I found people going to my home, writing me letters.

"There was an incredible array of people lobbying, telling me what they wanted to do. I wasn't even clear if they were the owners of the land or who they were."

Ms Burton described the time as an "innocent era" which morphed into something that was "hot and heavy" once the development plan got under way.



Floodgates

"When the development plan meetings were on, the developers and owners of land would crowd into the hallway leading into the (council) offices," she said.

"You had people pulling at your coat asking if they can have a word with you about some land. People were stuffed into the public galleries.

"I remember clearly seeing a man with a clipboard, looking very official in the public gallery, he was standing on his tip-toes and he had an assistant with him and he was ticking things off.

"I found later that this was Frank Dunlop -- he was ticking off the votes. There was a lot of pressure at that time."

The floodgates were open for development in Dublin city and surrounding areas and everyone wanted a piece of the pie.

And Ms Burton said the basic rules of planning were contravened due to the corruption which permeated the various levels of the process.

Commun-ities were not at the heart of the plans.

She said: "The plan was to have three plus one satellite towns -- this was Tallaght, Clondalkin, Blanchardstown and Swords -- the idea was to concentrate the development around the new towns.

"But if you think about it, Carrickmines was a long way from that. The developers wanted the prime choices. They were making a big killing."

The TD admits that the Labour Party didn't succeed in preventing the planning disaster.

"Were we able to do enough? No, we were not able to do enough," she said. "And we know the reason now. Money is the biggest persuader."

clairemurphy@herald.ie

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