Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, of the Fianna Fail party and in charge of the complete overhaul of Ireland’s gaming industry regulations, is being criticized by Pat Rabbitte, the justice spokesman for the Labor party, for being too involved in a specific development proposal from a friend and former political ally.
The proposal in question is for a €430 million leisure project at Dundalk, Ireland, a town on the coast of the Irish Sea halfway between Dublin and Belfast. Known as “Altitude,” the plans feature a year-round Snowflex ski slope as a centerpiece and include a 110,000-square-foot indoor concert arena, an 80,000-square-foot leisure area with movie theater, bowling alley and other family-friendly amenities, a 40,000-square-foot indoor water park and an 80,000-square-foot retail area with a focus on specialist sports and leisure shops.
The addition of a large casino is anticipated, should the law allow, but is not included in the initial proposal.
One of the developers is Pearse O’Hanrahan, who the Sunday Times identifies as a former Fianna Fail councilor from Dundalk and a close ally of Ahern. In September 2009, Ahern wrote a letter of support for the project to some potential backers. He also wrote letters to the enterprise minister and the minister for tourism and sport, on Department of Justice letterhead, asking them to support the project.
The Times quotes Rabbitte calling it “inappropriate” for someone “to advance a project at the local level while regulating at a national level.”
Ahern said he “always supports new projects in his constituency, particularly those with the potential for the creation of hundreds of jobs.” But he denies he would have a say in the awarding of a gaming license, should that possibility arise.