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Frank Connolly: "Tom Gilmartin's story deserves to be told"

20-05-2014 12:00

A successful property developer in England, the Sligo-born Tom Gilmartin had ambitious plans for major retail developments in Dublin in the late 1980s. Little did he know that in order to do business in the city, senior politicians and public officials would want a slice of the action … in large amounts of cash. Journalist Frank Connolly, author of a newly-published biography of Tom Gilmartin, explains how his story inspired him to reveal the greed and corruption at the heart of Irish politics.

Tom Gilmartin believed, as many of the Irish diaspora still do, that it was his responsibility to assist in stemming the tide of emigration that forced so many young people of his and later generations to England, the United States, Australia and many other far-flung places to seek decent work and a better life.

The graft and corruption described in the report of the Mahon Tribunal, which destroyed his efforts to develop his ambitious business projects and create substantial employment in Ireland during the late 1980s and early 1990s and almost caused his financial ruin, sowed the seeds of the recent economic collapse that has so deeply indebted future generations of Irish people. For this reason, the story of his journey from humble origins in the west of Ireland to success in the world of mechanical engineering and property development in England and his return to do business in Dublin deserves to be told.

I first spoke to Tom Gilmartin in the summer of 1998, a year after the Tribunal of Inquiry Into Certain Planning Matters and Payments was established by the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrat coalition Government and a few months after its legal team had tracked him to Luton in order to hear his extraordinary allegations concerning his encounters with the political and planning systems in Dublin.

Gilmartin’s claims were more dramatic, and more sensitive, than anything I had come across in years of investigating official wrongdoing by politicians and public servants. It centred on how he was forced from control of the company he formed to develop an ambitious retail and business park at Quarryvale, near Lucan, Co. Dublin, now the site of the commercially successful Liffey Valley Shopping Centre.

Work on this book began in 2004 but could not be completed, primarily for legal reasons, until Tom Gilmartin and the other characters central to the Quarryvale module of the tribunal had given their evidence and the inquiry had published its conclusions, which it did in the spring of 2012. Those conclusions largely vindicated the version of events provided to the tribunal by Gilmartin, who had been accused of inventing his various claims regarding the behaviour of various politicians and public servants he encountered.

This story is based on direct interviews with Gilmartin over several years, his private statements to the tribunal, his public evidence and those of many other witnesses, and other documents and information from a range of sources. It also leans heavily on the complex four-volume 3,000-page report of the tribunal and its damning conclusions, and I believe it helps to make the tribunal’s detailed investigation into Gilmartin’s claims more readily accessible to a wider audience. The report exposes deeply disturbing questions concerning the political culture that prevailed in Ireland during those years and the manner in which systemic corruption contaminated other organs of the state, including the civil service, the Garda Síochána, the legal system and the media.

Tom Gilmartin was initially reticent about his life and that of his family being the subject of a book. Indeed, one chapter concerning some extraordinary events in Luton during the 1970s and 80s which highlighted the mistreatment endured by many in the Irish community in Luton during the conflict in the North was removed at his request. He emerged with nothing but credit as a reluctant mentor and adviser to those in the Irish community who sought his assistance during those dark years.

Eleven years after he proposed the establishment of the inquiry to the Oireachtas, Bertie Ahern was forced to resign as Taoiseach because of its investigation into his personal finances and the large and unexplained amounts of money he accumulated when he was Minister for Finance in the early 1990s. Ahern’s resignation, in April 2008, resulted directly from information provided to the tribunal by Gilmartin. However, the tribunal did not directly link financial transactions that Ahern could not adequately explain to the claims it heard from Gilmartin.


In September 2008, only weeks after the tribunal completed hearing public evidence, the Government led by Fianna Fáil plunged future generations of Irish people into austerity when it agreed to guarantee the billions in debt of the country’s insolvent banks, including Allied Irish Banks and Anglo-Irish Bank, and of Irish Nationwide Building Society, all of which feature in this story.

In early 2011 Fianna Fáil was devastated in a general election three months after the Government it led was forced into the arms of an EU-ECB-IMF loan facility.

The circumstances that brought the country to its knees have been well explored and documented by others, but it is my hope that this book will assist those seeking answers to the question of where the political and financial rot began that has wreaked such havoc on the lives of so many Irish people. The report of the Mahon Tribunal, published in March 2012, revealed in shocking detail the level of political and corporate corruption and deceit that prevailed in Ireland over many decades.

In exposing the treatment he endured at the hands of some of the most powerful and influential in Irish society, Tom Gilmartin helped to expose the greed that motivated many in the corridors of power during those times. In conversations during what were to be his final days, he expressed his hope that he would be around to see this work published. He believed that the Tribunal report had been put on the proverbial shelf by the establishment and that his story had yet to be properly told. Unfortunately, he did not live to see the publication of this book, despite his strong wish to do so. Tom Gilmartin died unexpectedly in Cork University Hospital on Friday 22 November 2013.

Frank Connolly

Tom Gilmartin. The Man Who Brought Down a Taoiseach and Exposed the Greed and Corruption at the Heart of Irish Politics by Frank Connolly, is now available online (€13.59) and in all good bookshops nationwide. Also available as an ebook.

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