Belfast Telegraph

Coveney ‘not aware’ criminals were paid protection money by council

Simon Coveney is not disputing that his office was informed of the issue of criminals being paid protection money by Dublin City Council.

Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)
Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)

By Aine McMahon and Cate McCurry PA

Deputy Irish premier Simon Coveney has denied he was aware officials from Dublin City Council recommended that protection money was paid to criminals.

On Wednesday, the High Court heard that officials from the council were aware and recommended that protection money be paid to two criminals so that social housing could be built in west Dublin in 2016 and 2017.

Three firms, who were delivering the homes for the council, were giving 1,200 and 1,500 euro a week to the criminals to stop attacks on workers, the court was told.

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said on Thursday that an independent investigation will be carried out “to get to the bottom” of it.

In a statement, he said: “The issues raised in recent days on foot of a court case involving the Criminal Assets Bureau are very serious matters, and we are treating them as such in Government.

“I will be appointing a person to carry out an independent investigation. Further steps will be taken as necessary on completion of the investigation.

“I will get to the bottom of this matter as quickly as possible.”

In a statement on Wednesday, Dublin City Council said no payments were made by it to the two men and it is arranging for an independent investigation to be carried out into all aspects of its involvement in this matter.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty raised the issue of protection payments at Leaders’ Questions in the Dail.

He said his party colleague Aengus O’Snodaigh wrote a letter in 2016 while Mr Coveney was housing minister about how criminals were demanding payments of up to half a million euro from Dublin City Council.

I'm not saying emails weren't sent into my office Simon Coveney

Mr Doherty said: “The correspondent related the construction of 73 social housing units in Cherry Orchard.

“In the letter Deputy O’Snodaigh informed you and the rest of the recipients that construction had halted on the site following a sustained campaign of intimidation and the building site workers and security staff were under threat.

“Aengus O’Snodaigh offered to meet with the local gardai, offered to meet with the minister and individually to provide further information in relation to it, and it all fell on a deaf ear.”

Mr Coveney said the first he heard of such allegations was on Wednesday and not during his tenure as housing minister.

He added: “I’m not disputing that this is a serious issue.

“It was raised and sent to my office and we didn’t respond to Aengus O’Snodaigh as far as I’m aware, and that was raised and sent to my office but I did not.

“I wasn’t aware of it and if I was I would have raised this with the minister of justice. I’m not saying emails weren’t sent into my office.

“I’m trying to understand what happened there.

“But what I’m also saying is that the appropriate response here was from a Minister for Justice as it is a garda issue, and was a guard issue at the time.

“We need a completely independent investigation of Dublin City Council so that we can establish exactly what happened and when and who, etc, so that we can ensure that we understand what happened here to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Mr Coveney added that the issue was responded to by the justice minister of the time because the emails pertained to criminal allegations.

Daithi Doolan, Sinn Fein councillor for the Ballyfermot and Drimnagh area, said: “We contacted Minister Coveney on Christmas Eve 2016 and we went into detail about what was going on in that site.

“We explained our deep concerns in that email.

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File pic of bricks on a building site (Ben Birchall/PA)

“They (ministers) didn’t respond positively in an email, one of the ministers said no, and said it would be inappropriate to meet.

“They had total disregard for our concerns, it was a disregard for workers on that site, it was a disregard for the greater community.

“Rather than engage with us to seek a solution, so the building would proceed, they chose to ignore it and abandon the community to the criminal gang.

“They chose to ignore our warnings.”

A spokeswoman for the Garda press office said: “Legal proceedings remain ongoing in this case and An Garda Siochana will not comment.”

PA

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