Liam Lawlor was a prominent Dublin politician who will always be associated with the shadow of financial corruption in Irish public life. He gained notoriety, rather than fame, for his performance at legal tribunals set up to trawl through the labyrinthine system of corruption which flourished under the one-time Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey.
Lawlor's determinedly obstructionist tactics - which included concealment, bluster, failure to produce documents, and outright lies - earned him three prison sentences, beginning in 2001, for standing in contempt of the tribunals. The sight of a politi- cian going to jail sent shockwaves through Irish politics. Lawlor's being put behind bars put paid to a political career which had in any event been going nowhere fast, since Haughey and others regarded Lawlor as a liability and never promoted him to ministerial rank.
This left Lawlor more time to pursue a business career which, according to numerous accounts, featured bribery and corruption on a heroic scale. Years of work by the tribunals have yet to produce a comprehensive picture of the financial exploits of a politician who had, at the last count, 110 bank accounts.
Liam Lawlor was born in 1945 in Dublin, going to technical college and making his initial money through his own refrigeration company. He was fascinated with politics from an early age, joining Fianna Fáil and winning election both to the Dáil and to Dublin county council. Although known as a big spender at election times, his political base in west Dublin was shaky and at various times he failed to win re-election to both.
He first supported Haughey but later turned against him, a move which proved politically costly when it involved such a vengeful party leader. But, despite Lawlor's political misjudgements, he clearly had the knack of making a fortune, travelling around Dublin in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes. A principal source of his income, it emerged, was his shady relationships with builders and property developers.
He came to be known as the "Mr Big" who could deliver council decisions which had huge financial consequences. Cheap land, once re-zoned for housing or commercial purposes, would shoot up in value.
As investigations opened into the years of shady business, Lawlor denied everything and anything, obstructing tribunals in the apparent hope that they would suspect a lot, but lack tangible proof. He may also have calculated that both the public and the political world would tire of the whole investigative process, which proved expensive and very often moved at a glacial pace.
The tribunals turned out to have more teeth than he had bargained for, however, and Dublin judges proved unafraid to send politicians to jail. The political world also lost patience not with the tribunals, but with Lawlor, all parties uniting to denounce him.
He was de-selected by Fianna Fáil and left the Dáil in 2002. He remained highly active in pursuing his business interests at home and abroad, however, making many trips to western and central Europe, and was visiting Moscow when he died in a car accident on Saturday.
David McKittrickReuse content