Talk of Tribunals

Transparency is a fundamental principle in combating corruption which is a disease that flourishes in the shade”.

That was Justice Mahon in the Mahon Tribunal final report published in 2012.  The Tribunal into “Certain Planning Matters and Payments” as it was called, began in 1997.  The final report came out 15 years later. I followed the tribunal religiously from the days when Justice Flood was chairman, all the way through to its conclusion. I remember listening to the RTE Radio enactments at night cycling on an exercise bike in the sunroom of our home in the Skerries Rock estate. I had two young babies at the time. Michael had sold his internet company and we had just bought our land. We were hoping to build a home on the Rush Road, not far from where I grew up.


The Tribunal was compulsive listening. On one occasion and when James Gogarty was giving evidence, we went into Dublin Castle to see the proceedings in action. Mr Gogarty was a brave man. When he died in 2005 Justice Flood attended his funeral which I thought said a lot. Tom Gilmartiin’s brave testimony to the Tribunal stands out. He told the truth. He passed away in 2013 quietly and with dignity. It was reported in the Irish Times that there were no Dail Tributes “just prayers, a poem and a song”. I hoped, as most did at the time, that despite the huge amount of public money spent on the tribunal, that Ireland would be the better for it and that the end result would result in a more transparent and equitable planning system.

Unfortunately, corruption is still thriving in the shadows. If there is another tribunal I am offering our story as proof that the planning system is as opaque as it ever was. When he wrote his recommendations, Justice Mahon knew well that it is not possible to completely eliminate corruption. He spoke of emerging gaps in transparency and the need for constant review. He stressed that the example should come from the top.

“the corrupt and the corruptible will inevitably gravitate to the weakest link in the chain of anti-corruption measures”….“corruption at the top tends to repeat itself throughout the whole governance system”.

I have seen it first-hand, how corruption coming from the top creates a tribe of ‘enablers’. Within that tribe, there are three main types of enablers: the Complicit, the Willfully Blind and the Indifferent. (credit Margaret Heffernan in the Ivey Business Journal).

The Complicit are actively involved in corruption but in a bubble, cut-off from reality and with little accountability – some of them are just following orders, some are happy with the rewards and some are afraid of retribution if they were to speak out. When there is a group of people who are aware of what is going on, leaks start to emerge. Comments make their way back to us. To quote a few; “it wasn’t me. I didn’t do it!”, “I’m not the one that was the bad bastard”, “they’ll never get planning because my ..…  is very high up in planning and knows their every move”, “it wasn’t as simple as that”,it was one of the ones that wasn’t going through”.

The Willfully Blind are aware but turning a blind eye in the belief that protecting the institution is more important than the truth. From experience the Willfully Blind tend to take one of two approaches in the hope that the issue gets buried: they either just ignore your correspondence completely or if presented with facts that cannot be refuted, they ignore them and proclaim that “the file is now closed”, “we have nothing further to add on the matter”.

The Indifferent are just that; indifferent. They just don’t want to know and would prefer to remain ignorant of the situation. Anything for an easy life.  Barack Obama said recently that the “biggest threat to democracy is indifference”.

This is what we have experienced in our dealings with the planning system, particularly since the latest refusal by An Bord Pleanala in 2017. There is a lot more that could be said about the system of course, but that’s for another time. I will say that the majority of people in the system are good people who carry out their duties in the public interest. It is unfortunate for us and for the town that personal interests came into play in our case.

Justice Mahon also spoke about conflicts of interest.  

“Conflicts of Interest are a root cause of corruption”.

 We can see clearly how a conflict has stopped our planning, not just for Holmpatrick Cove but since we bought the land 20 years ago. The land is and always was appropriate for development. The evidence-based studies confirm this as does the support from the community- all the sports clubs, the Skerries Community Association, the Chamber of Commerce, the Tidy Town’s Committee, were amongst many others who wrote in support of its development. There was a small handful of neighbouring objectors who provided the white noise required. Some of them close to the source of the conflict.  As I have said before, there are too many incidents, co-incidences and circumstantial connections pointing to one conclusion- that our planning was interfered with. We are far from alone in this assertion.

I wrote to Justice Mahon recently (a fan letter!) and he gave me some good advice. I am thinking about how best to use it. His and Justice Flood’s planning tribunal began the year my eldest daughter was born, in 1997. She’s 23 now. She has four younger siblings. We are living in her fourth home since then. When I was following the Tribunal hearings all those years ago never did I think that we would be impacted by planning corruption to the extent that we would lose our home and livelihood in the process. We will move on of course. On to our next home. If there is one thing our experience has taught us, it is resilience.

Last Christmas we showed a public representative our information. He is very sympathetic, and we believe will make a difference.  We showed him the timelines, the links between parties, the decisions taken. We told our story. We all joked about the fact that there was a tribunal in it. On seeing what we put in front of him his response was “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it is a duck!”. Well, all I can say is – that duck is still quacking……!  

The Human Cost

We have another viewing of our house tomorrow. My first thoughts are “Oh God the boys rooms are a mess” (the girls rooms aren’t much better to be honest).  So I tell them they have to tidy their rooms. Occasionally I’ll get the comment “but why would we bother? It’s not like we want to sell the house” Fair point and part of me would like to agree but we are low on options and we have our pride to consider! 

The House on the Hill

You see we are in receivership. Being in receivership makes you totally powerless. (Don’t know why but I can’t help thinking of tumbleweed as an analogy!). I could go on about the fact the lender appointed a receiver in the middle of a global pandemic. That the lender appointed a receiver when there was both market and political instability. I could go on about the fact that they sold our land at a bargain basement price. I could go on about the fact that because they sold the land so cheap the house (our home) has to be sold. (It’s a simple equation: cheap land + house = loan + 15% interest =Happy days for lender). I could go on about the fact that we opened the national newspaper and found our house listed as “bargain of the week.” I could go on about the extra security that was given over to avoid eviction seven days before Christmas. I could go on about the fact that we are left completely in the dark. And there’s more. A lot more. But what’s the point? The lender and the receiver are legally within their rights to do what they are doing whatever about the human side of it all. Before the lender appointed the receiver in March, the land was for sale. The selling agent was shocked that the land didn’t sell for a strong price. He told us the feedback from developers was that it was the planning history. So all of this (the receivership, the loss of the home…) is just collateral damage. As one of our local councilors said to us This is the human cost of corruption”.

In 2018 we sold our old family home on the beach to keep the show on the road.  (We had roll-up interest to pay). It was a great home and we have wonderful memories there: christenings, communions, birthday parties, etc. We had great neighbours too. Originally we had bought the bungalow we are living in for the land that connected Holmpatrick Cove to the town. It made sense to complete the Coastal Walkway. When we told the children we were moving to the bungalow our younger daughter wasn’t too keen on the idea. I remember laughing when she said “I’m not moving to that hideous house on the hill”. Granted it was in need of updating and even she would agree now that it wasn’t at all hideous. It’s a great house. We did it up and made a lovely home. On balance we will have great memories from the couple of years we spent here too. What’s more our nephew and his wife bought our old home on the beach. It’s in good hands.

Lately we have been living a bit of a nomadic life. Our stuff is spread between three different locations: here, storage and my parent’s house. Not ideal. At the beginning of March and under pressure from our lender we had to move to my parent’s house down the road. Apart from the obvious upset and disruption we had a lovely ten days there. We had evenings sitting around the dinner table and chatting. My parents enjoyed the company and so did we. There was lots of music again. (it had been a while). The girls played their violins. My mother loved it. They even played the piano with her. It was not an unhappy time. It ended abruptly however when Taoiseach Varadkar made the big announcement about the Covid19 crisis. We were all gathered in the living room watching the speech. About five police cars had pulled in across the road with their headlights and flashing red lights beaming in the window. (Obviously they too were listening to the announcement). It added a touch of drama to the scene. The perfect backdrop. We went back to the bungalow the next day. We made a call given the national emergency. We didn’t want to put my parents at risk.  

My middle son stayed with my parents to keep them company. He was happy to cocoon with them as he was studying for his first year college exams. (He did great) Also I think my mother’s cooking was an added incentive.

Apropos of cooking and much to the amusement of the kids, I have been experimenting a bit of late. A new diet. I like to call it a new lifestyle. It’s a distraction from other things…….My eldest son came in late, not so long ago, after a very good night out with his friends. (A few beers were had). When he opened the door this foul, putrid smell hit him like a brick wall. I’m not sure how to take this but he said that I had been cooking such weird things of late that he just presumed it was another of my experiments. (sadly he was right). He went to bed but he told me later he spent half the night (what was left of it anyway) with his head stuck out the Velux window because the smell was so bad. I still can’t believe he didn’t try and at least find the source. And Oh God that smell! We will never forget it. Let’s just say it was supposed to be a bone broth. When our youngest son woke us up the next day saying there was a disgusting smell in the house Michael went to investigate. The chicken carcass was black. (It reminded me of my trip to the National Museum when we saw the poor mummified bog men). It took at least two weeks to get the smell out of the house. Bone broths have now been officially added to my banned list.

My father used to say about my grandmother (his own mother) that he and his siblings learned to cook in self-defence. Nana Ryan, as we called her, was always buried in a book on topics such as Medieval history or maybe learning a new language. Housekeeping and cooking got in the way.  In our case the kids do the baking for the same reason (self defence). In fairness it might have something to do with the time I managed to hoover a perfect round hole in a cake that  two of the children had baked. They were arguing because the younger one had put too many sprinkles on top. I don’t know why, but it seemed perfectly logical to hold the nozzle of the hoover over the cake to remove the excess sprinkles. I don’t need to tell you that that didn’t turn out well.

I spoke to all five of our children the other evening. I said if you had a choice what would you choose. Choices were: keep the house and put everything that has happened to us behind us and move on OR let the house go and continue to shine a light on what went on. You would think this was a tough choice but all five, from the 13 year old to my 23 year old, unhesitatingly chose the second option. With the risk of sounding proud. I think Michael and I have done a pretty good job. We are proud of them.

Back to the house viewing tomorrow. Now, do I light some scented candles and brew some coffee? (Baking fresh bread is not an available option for reasons outlined above) Or do I whip up a lovely fresh batch of bone broth………? 

Where are we going to put the SUP Board?

The Board

Where are we going to put the SUP Board?

Why did the seagulls hovering turn to vultures?

Where are we going to put the bikes?

Why does deception and indifference corrupt power?

Where are we going to put the furniture?

Why did doing your public duty get replaced by doing favours?

Where are we going to put our five children?

Why did protecting the system become more important than doing the right thing?

Where are we going to put the SUP, Board?