This is an edited extract from Frank Connolly’s new book “Tom Gilmartin: The Man Who Brought Down A Taoiseach And Exposed The Greed And Corruption At The Heart Of Irish Politics”, published by Gill & Macmillan on April 3. Frank Connolly was ireland's leading investigative reporter for many years. His exposure of the Gilmartin charges of corruption at the highest levels of the Irish government subsequently led to the downfall of Berite Ahern as Irish leader.
It was on 1 February 1989 that Tom Gilmartin was summoned for an audience with CJ Haughey. Again, Liam Lawlor was at the centre of events and the Dublin TD met Gilmartin that day at about 5pm in Buswells Hotel in Molesworth Street, across the road from Dáil Éireann in Kildare Street.
Lawlor had told him that ‘the Boss’ wanted to meet him. The Boss was, of course, Charles Haughey, then Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil, which made him Ireland’s most powerful politician. Gilmartin followed Lawlor across the road into the Dáil building and ascended by lift to an upper floor.
Ray Burke, a Government minister, was in the lift on the way up but they hardly exchanged a word. Gilmartin recalled being led by Lawlor along a gangway, past partitioned offices on each side and towards a lobby area. He was then ushered through dark oak double doors.
Lawlor stayed outside when Gilmartin entered a large meeting room where a group of Government ministers were gathered around a large rectangular table.
Pádraig Flynn sat at the top left-hand corner of the table and beside him Albert Reynolds. Beside Reynolds was Gerry Collins, Minister for Justice, while along the right-hand side were Bertie Ahern, Minister for Labour, Brian Lenihan (senior), Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Séamus Brennan, Minister of State for Trade and Marketing. Ahern, Brennan and Lenihan, all of whom he had previously met, greeted him. Burke then entered through a door in the middle of the room, followed by Charles Haughey.
‘I know you: you’re Gilmartin from Lislary,’ Haughey said, making reference to Gilmartin’s original Sligo home, as he walked around the table towards his visitor. He told Gilmartin that he knew of Lislary because he had a holiday home by the sea in the townland. After chatting about the two projects at Bachelor’s Walk and Quarryvale, the Taoiseach gave Gilmartin an assurance that no obstacles would be put in his way at a time when jobs were desperately needed.
Before he ended the conversation Haughey asked whether ‘Liam was taking good care of you.’ After the brief and informal encounter with these members of the Government he was ushered from the room. As he entered the lobby area outside, Gilmartin says he saw Lawlor and another man in conversation to his left. He was then approached by yet another man, short in stature with ‘salt and pepper’ (ie: black and white) hair and a casual jacket.
This man, whom he did not know, told him he would do well out of his business projects. He gave Gilmartin a piece of paper with a number written on it. It was the number of a bank account with Bank of Ireland in the Isle of Man. The man asked him to deposit £5 million in the account.
Describing the incident in detail, Gilmartin told me: ‘Well, he approached me, I looked around, and...he says: “Do you realise that you’re going to get every assistance to get these two projects off the ground?” and I said, “Well, it’s a major investment that I’m bringing into Ireland, so I would expect that they would be happy to see it under the current economy,” and he says to me, “You’re also—we’re all aware that you are going to make hundreds of millions out of these two projects,” and I said, “Well, not me. Whoever invests in it will. It won’t be me that will make hundreds of millions.”
‘And he said to me, “Well, we think that you should give us some of that money up front.” So I say, “Yeah?” And he said, “Yes, we would like you to deposit five million pounds before you start.”
‘And I say, “What do you mean?” and he says, “Well, we want you to deposit five million pounds, and we want it deposited into an Isle of Man account,” and I said, sarcastically, “That’s not much”’ or words to that effect.
With that—he had his hands in his jacket pocket and he took out this piece of paper . . . a striped piece of paper about an inch and a half wide . . . and he says, “I want you to deposit the money into that account.”
Gilmartin took the piece of paper, put it in his pocket, turned to the man and said, ‘You make the f***ing Mafia look like monks.’ The man grabbed him by the hand in an apparent attempt to take back the piece of paper, which Gilmartin had put in his pocket, and as he did so the unidentified man said, ‘You could f***ing wind up in the Liffey for saying things like that.’
There were no witnesses to the conversation. Lawlor, who had been present in the hallway when he left the meeting with the Government ministers, was nowhere to be seen.