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Dublin City Council

Local Authority: Dublin City Council

Issue: Unpublished report concerning a council controversy

The recent history of local authorities shows a pattern whereby a controversy erupts; a report is then commissioned into the controversy, and, in many cases, the report is never published.

One of the more recent examples of this phenomenon is a report carried out into allegations that protection money was paid on behalf of Dublin City Council at social housing building sites.

This report, which has remained unpublished despite being completed over two years ago, was carried out by a senior counsel, Mr Patrick Butler.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage spent around €40,000 on the report.

The council, meanwhile, spent more than €50,000 on hiring outside legal representation as part of its involvement in the matter.

But whether the report ever sees the light of day is far from certain.

Mr Butler was appointed to prepare a report following a High Court case in October 2019 taken by the Criminal Assets Bureau against two local criminals.

The court heard that construction companies had made "protection money" payments to the two Dublin criminals, at the instruction of council officials, to stop anti-social behaviour on building sites of social housing projects in Ballyfermot and Cherry Orchard.

The council has denied paying protection money to the two individuals concerned.

The court case attracted considerable media attention. In November 2019, the then Housing Minister, Eoghan Murphy, appointed Mr Butler to report on the allegations under section 224 of the Local Government Act.

This allows the Minister to appoint "an authorised person" to prepare a report "in relation to the performance of any of the functions of one or more local authorities."

In a letter sent to the County and City Management Association, the representative body for council chief executives, Mr Murphy said that he had appointed Mr Butler to "prepare a report into the role, if any, of Dublin City Council and/or individual employees of the Council in these matters."

Documents released to RTÉ Investigates under freedom of information show that Mr Butler completed his report in December 2019. He was paid €36,900 for his work, with €2,574 spent on transcription services.

Despite repeated questions by councillors at Dublin City Council, the Butler report had never been published, nor have councillors been allowed to see it.

The department refused a recent freedom of information request from RTÉ Investigates seeking a copy of the Butler report.

Its decision-maker stated, "It is my understanding that there is a related active Garda investigation" and that a specific exemption under the Freedom of Information Act applied as a result.

The gardaí recently told RTÉ Investigates that they "are continuing to investigate certain allegations in relation to this matter".

Meanwhile, Dublin City Council confirmed that it had hired an external law firm to provide legal advice as part of Mr Butler's report. While it refused to release the invoices submitted as part of this service, it confirmed that it had paid a total of €54,000 to the law firm, ByrneWallace.

When asked why it felt the necessity to hire the services of an external law firm as part of Mr Butler’s inquiry, when it could use the services of its legal department, the council said that it "will not be commenting on the reasons it sought expert legal advice."

When queried if it had made a formal complaint to Gardaí concerning the allegations that protection money had been paid on the social housing building sites, it said it had not.

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