Sinn Féin has said it wrote to the Ministers for Housing and Justice three years ago warning about threats and intimidation of building workers at a social housing development at Cherry Orchard in Dublin.

Local TD for the area, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, warned of "serious approaches" being made by criminals attempting to set out conditions for the project including demands for money. 

He warned of "contagion" for other projects, and called on the Government to adopt a similar approach to that taken against organised crime in Limerick "where the various arms of the State eventually stood firm against such a criminal element and won out in the end." 

In the first letter addressed to the then-minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald, dated 26 December 2016, Mr Ó Snodaigh apologised for writing on Christmas Eve but said "such is the urgency I had to contact you as soon as possible." 

He said the construction of 73 social houses was halted the previous Monday following a "sustained campaign of intimidation of building workers and security staff at the site." 

In the letter, Mr Ó Snodaigh and local Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan outlined how one JCB driver was attacked with petrol after which workers left the site and cannot return until the situation is resolved.

"It is clear that the intimidation has been orchestrated by criminals who have vowed that no work on any Cherry Orchard site will go ahead unless they get the security contracts or receive monies from the builders." 

In the letter, seen by RTÉ News, he said if the work does not continue then "we are condemning Cherry Orchard to a future of dereliction and abandonment" and called for extra resources for gardaí in the area to allow building to restart.

A week later, on 5 January 2017, he wrote a follow-up letter which was cc'd to the Minister for Housing, saying that the situation had "escalated."

He said there had been "serious approaches made by criminals involved set out conditions regarding the restart of works."

"I believe the possibility of interference from criminals in deciding the security contract for the site has major implications for this state sponsored project in the here and now, but also in the future.

"Would such an element be allowed to decide who gets housed in the houses, what shape other proposed works will take, who will get to open shops, businesses etc. in the regeneration of Cherry Orchard?"

He warned there could be "contagion" not only for other sites in the are "but also on other social housing and other state sponsored building and regeneration projects throughout the city."

Mr Ó Snodaigh called for a meeting on the issue involving local garda, members of Dublin City Council and the Ministers for Housing and Justice "to work out a sustainable approach".

He received a response from the Justice Minister on 13 January 2007, saying a meeting would not be appropriate as An Garda Síochána is the most appropriate authority to deal with the situation.

"I share your sense of outrage at the viciousness of the attack and the reckless disregard for the welfare of the workers," she wrote.

Yesterday, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said he was "greatly disturbed" at reports that officials from Dublin City Council were aware and recommended that protection money be paid to two criminals so council houses could be built in west Dublin.

He said as there are court proceedings under way he is restricted on what he can say in relation to the case.

On Tuesday the High Court heard that officials from Dublin City Council were aware and recommended that protection money be paid to two violent criminals so that council houses could be built in west Dublin in 2016 and 2017.

The court heard that three building firms working for the city council paid between €1,200 and €1,500 a week to Derek 'Dee Dee' O'Driscoll from Croftwood Grove and "his enforcer" David Reilly from nearby Croftwood Park to prevent the sites and construction staff from being attacked.

Over €250,000 in the men's bank accounts has been declared the proceeds of crime and confiscated by the Criminal Assets Bureau, along with a mobile home and a horsebox.

A CAB officer told the court that council officials told the builders that the two men were "providing security" and "making sure there were no problems" at the sites.

Dublin City Council said it is investigating the matter.

Speaking in the Dáil this morning Fianna Fáil's Dara Calleary said the details of reports on the payment of money by contractors to criminals to secure protection around a social housing scheme "reads like something from a mafia documentary".

He said there are political ramifications in relation to the sharing of this case within Government.

He questioned Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who was Minister for Housing at the time, on whether the Government has done anything in the last 24 hours to follow up on this information.

Mr Coveney said he did not condone the payment in any circumstances and appreciates there were issues raised that are a matter for the council to investigate, with an independent investigation.

He said the Government is now trying to establish what happened and when, and who sent emails to whom and what action was taken as a result of that.

He acknowleged he was Minister for Housing at the time but he said the first he heard of the issue was yesteday. 

He said because of the seriousness of the allegations an independent investigation is needed from Dublin City Council to ensure they understand what happened.

Mr Calleary said an independent investigator needs to be appointed by the Government and not DCC itself.

Mr Coveney said he asked for the email traffic from ministers' offices. He said Mr Ó Snodaigh emailed a number of people but not him, even though he was minister for housing at the time.

He said Co-operative Housing Ireland was emailed by Mr Ó Snodaigh and his office was cc'd in that reponse.

Mr Coveney said he is following up on what happened as a result of that cc'ing.

He said they willl now follow the trail of who knew what and when.

Additional reporting: Gail Conway