An Taoiseach- "Irelands unique one man "public-private partnership"(Public in Dublin -private in Manchester)?
One of those who hosted Mr Aherns whip round dinner in manchaster was a director of a very privileged company called Aer Arann. Tim Kilroe bought the fledgling airline in 1981 but eventually lost appetite for the project despite being offered the then ground breaking opportunity to challenge the incumbent cartel of Aer Lingus and British Airways on the Ireland-U.K. routes long before Ryanair came into the picture. He sold out in May 1994 and since that date both the airline and the subsidies ("Public Service Obligations") have increased exponentially despite the high fares and the fact that it operates in direct competition to another massively subsidised entity , Iarann Road Eireann.(C.I.E.)
It is a service for lawyers and well heeled businessmen,and rich tourists in the main, who can travelling around the country and be back in Dublin the same day without suffering the indignity of an unreliable,overcrowded and suffocating rail service.
Re this interesting and rapidly expanding airline,Mr Perry asked in the Dail in 2003:
"On the Aran Islands air service, why did the subsidy paid to the private operator increase from €279,000 in 2001 to €621,000 during the first year of the public service obligation route? This was a considerable increase. Why will the subsidy increase to €745,000 in year two of the public service obligation route? Who will monitor for the Department the costs of the service? These are all concerns with which the Bill should deal. Why are there no independent statistics for air service usage? Is there any requirement on the operator to forward logs of flights undertaken or details of the number of passengers carried? These are all concerns regarding the Aran Islands air service."
What is of particular concern to me - it was noted in the Comptroller and Auditor General's report - was the Department's practice of extending its contract with O'Brien Shipping in 1997. This contract was originally awarded in 1992 without opening up the tendering to public competition."
" Rossaveal ferry service also causes concern. Why did the Department not obtain a record of approval from the Department of Finance after it decided to award the contract to the operator? Why does no signed contract exist in respect of the service provided under the 1998 service agreement? Why does no signed contract exist in respect of the service provided under the 1999-2002 service agreement? Why does the Department not monitor the frequency of the service provided by the operator? There are a lot of unanswered questions relating to the previous arrangement with the operators of the Rossaveal ferry service, the Aran Islands air service and the Doolin ferry service."
The minister for Transport Mr Brennan declared re Knock Airport in 2003:
" The public service obligation, the amount paid for the flights, is paid directly to Aer Arann. This airline has a daily return trip to Dublin at an average cost to the Exchequer of approximately €3 million annually. The subvention per passenger per one-way trip is calculated at €226 - this is a substantial investment in the airport. To its credit, the airport is now well-managed and well-led and has a good future."
From 1995, aer Arann maximum return fare was set at €89 for all routes. From 1998 the maximum
return fare was increased to €113, with a requirement that at least 50% of seats be available
at a maximum of €100 return.
From 2001, this was changed to 40% of seats at €110 return, 40% at €123 return, and no
requirement regarding the balance. This was not changed in July 2002.
Routes:kerry Galway Sligo Donegal knock derry
Route 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003f
€'000 €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000 €'000
Total 1,143 1,318 2,200 4,105 4,204 4,153 16,233 18,537 19,898
1. PSO Contracts have not coincided with calendar years, so the values above are not
exactly as in the contract years.
2. The current Sligo, Donegal and Derry contracts are due to terminate in January 2004.
3. The current Kerry, Galway and Knock contracts are due to terminate in July 2005. The
contracted subvention levels for 2004 for these routes are €4.9, €5.6 and €2.9 million
respectively, and for 2005 roughly half that. For the most part Aer Arann has included
cost increases of 10% per annum for each of these routes.
4. The Sligo and Donegal routes were taken over by Aer Arann under a combined temporary
contract running from 3.3. 2003 to 17.1.2004, at a fixed fee of €4.4m.
Source: Department of Transport.
The same data can be expressed in graphic form, below, which highlights more clearly the
escalation in cost to the Exchequer since 2001.
Costs in 2003 will be 17 times the 1995 level, or just under four times the plateau of the 1998
to 2000 period. Seems like Tim should have stayed the course on this one.
HOW fitting it was that the longest-serving Taoiseach since Dev should be photographed - on a day which historians will come to record as the beginning of the end of his reign - wearing a hard hat.
Could there be a more totemic symbol of the Bertie era? Nothing bookends his decade-long rule as emphatically as the omnipresence of The Builders.
History will, no doubt, classify the cause of Bertie Ahern's undoing - three comparatively piffling no-strings-attached payments by kindly gentlemen - as something of a molehill that gathered the cataclysmic momentum of an avalanche.
Yet, it is as appropriate as the wearing of that hard hat that the Prince of Hearts should fatally stumble over his relationship with big-bucks businessmen.
We have been told little enough about that mysterious autumn weekend in 1994 when a casually attired minister for finance privately discoursed on the Irish economy for the benefit of 25 businessmen in Manchester. What we do know is that there were builders in his €11,000-worth appreciative audience. Quelle surprise!
Ever since he appointed his first Cabinet in 1997, Bertie Ahern has been stubbornly and defiantly ambivalent about Fianna Fail's fatal attraction to The Builders, starting with Ray Burke's propulsion to the foreign affairs ministry despite the rampant rumours that he had pocketed planning bribes.
Only last summer, the Taoiseach exhibited no hint of disquiet at the appearance of bribe-payer Mick Bailey in Fianna Fail's fundraising tent at the Galway Races. He appeared equally unperturbed when Bailey's construction company, Bovale, bought a full-page advertisement in Fianna Fail's in-house paper, The Nation. It is an ambivalence encoded in Fianna Fail's DNA.
Until 10 days ago, Bertie Ahern had been a very lucky politician. He became leader of Fianna Fail in the ecstatic anything-is-possible dawn of the IRA's 1994 ceasefire.
By the time he was elected Taoiseach, the economy was firing on more pistons than Concorde. The peace and the profits formed the twin axles of his soaring popularity. Not that he was undeserving of the kudos. Another leader could have squandered such golden opportunities in a knee-jerk.
When his achievements are measured by the gauge of tangible results, Ireland should be down on its knees giving thanks for Bertie Ahern.
But a nation is more than the narrow margin of a profit-and-loss ledger - a theory adroitly illustrated last Thursday when the Taoiseach was dissembling under his hard hat in Cavan. Back in Dublin, a clinical psychologist, Mark Harrold, was decrying the supremacy of bullies in modern Ireland. "Our macho culture fetes them as achievers," he proposed at the launch of a conference on bullying.
At the same time, the film director John Boorman was - at another press conference in another part of town - scorning the base paradoxes to which Bertie Ahern's Ireland has descended. "Poets and scholars and the highest illiteracy rate in Europe," went his inventory. "The 'traffic jam' postcard of sheep blocking a road, and Pearse Street . . . the rule of law, and the grotesque greed of lawyers." One he did not mention was the contradiction of a society that, at one stage, was applauding itself for creating three new millionaires a week while the gap between rich and poor stretched to one of Europe's largest.
These past 10 days have debunked two of the New Ireland's favourite myths. First, that we inhabit a land of Arcadian bliss and parity of opportunity. Second, that Bertie Ahern is a simple man with humble needs. Yes, his aspirations were modest when set against Haughey's Medici princeling desires but, 13 years ago, how many Irish citizens could afford a €300 airfare to Manchester six times a season for football matches (as he says he did) and put up for a fortnight every August in one of the country's finest hotels?
Few would begrudge him such luxuries in the leisure windows of his prodigious work, but why this fallacious image of a latter-day Matt Talbot clanging about in chains of frugality?
The one thing Bertie Ahern has never been good at is disguising his admiration for rich businessmen. While he likes to depict his own circle of pals as ordinary Joes, many of them are very wealthy indeed. As the saying goes: know my friends; know me.
The Taoiseach is not at all ambivalent on the question of cronyism. According to the gospel he cited in his television interview, what qualified his friends for appointment to State boards was that they were . . . well, they were his friends. This fundamental corruption of power has been swept under the mat by virtually everyone in Leinster House - bar Joe Higgins - because, truth to tell, politicians of every persuasion indulge in State-board patronage.
Are we to accept that buying favours is reprehensible but, in a republic of equals, receiving favours from our buddies is perfectly alright? In that case, we might as well go the whole hog and crown someone queen just because her granny was her father's mother.
It leaves us with the depressing Hobson's Choice: do we ditch one leader because he is soft on the it's-who-you-know ethic and choose another who really is no different?
That, after all, is what we have done with Fianna Fail.
We jettisoned Haughey because of his golden circle. And we installed Bertie, who came complete with his own circle. Maybe his circle is somewhat rougher around the edges, but it is no less golden.
(An article in the Irish independent)
Through bungling, Bertie has allowed a political crisis to develop that could well end his career.
In 1993 and 1994, when he got almost €50,000 from friends, he may well have considered it a loan.
However, the danger of this should have been apparent by August 1997 when Judge Brian McCracken concluded in his tribunal report that it was "unacceptable that a member of Dáil Éireann, and in particular a Cabinet minister and Taoiseach, should be supported in his personal lifestyle by gifts made to him personally.".
As Taoiseach, Bertie endorsed the McCracken findings. "The tribunal stresses a point I have repeatedly emphasised, that public representatives must not be under a personal financial obligation to anyone," Bertie told the Dáil when it reconvened the following month. He was right, but he made the political mistake of behaving as a hypocrite. If he really believed that the "dig out" was just a loan, he should have paid it back in 1997.
He feared he might be accused of just paying it back because of the danger of being exposed, but he would now be in a much better position to defend himself. At least it would have looked like a loan and fair-minded people would have been prepared to forget about it.
Bertie compounded his original mistake with a series of other blunders, such as acting the hypocrite over the McCracken report, and, more recently, by trying to suppress the story by deriding the "50 journalists running around behind me". They were doing a job that is a vital part of a functioning democracy, but he effectively compared them to rats with his Pied Piper analogy. To cap it all, he lied about the amount of money he had received, when he said that the figure of between €50,000 and €100,000 was "off the wall".
LATER he tried to suggest €50,000 was comparatively small. It may have been small in relation to the kind of money that Charles Haughey or Liam Lawlor were pocketing, but surely nobody would suggest that their conduct should be used to set or even influence any standards. The majority of Irish people still do not take home €50,000 for a whole year of honest work.
Judge McCracken warned that politicians who accept money from people in such circumstances compromise themselves. The Taoiseach found it necessary to defend his appointment to State boards of a number of the people who gave him money, but he botched his defence. "I appointed them because they were friends, not because of anything they had given me," he told RTÉ’s Brian Dobson. Surely he should have said the most important consideration was that those people would do a good job, not that they were his friends.
Bertie says he considered the money a loan, not a gift. He may have talked about repaying it, but his suggestion that he could not get his friends to take the money was an insult to the intelligence of the electorate. It also provided critics with a golden opportunity to ridicule him.
Joe Higgins seized the opportunity in the Dáil when he suggested that Bertie could have just written to his friends: "Ah, jez, lads — yous’ll have me in big trouble if you don’t take back the 50 grand. My circumstances have improved and I’ll have 50 journalists traipsing around after me if word gets out."
Higgins capped it off with a ludicrous postscript: "Tell Paddy the Plasterer to stay clear of Callely’s house — he’s in enough trouble over the painter!"
Of course, this skilfully raised the issue of Ivor Callely being forced to resign, because he "forgot" to pay the bill for having his house painted, which cost only a fraction of the money given to Bertie. He had to go, as did P Flynn and even Senator Liam Cosgrave, who got much less than any of them. Bertie should go, too.
The Taoiseach could do the honourable thing by recognising his mistake and announcing the date of his resignation. This would set a valuable precedent that no politician should ever accept such favours.
If he announced his resignation now to coincide with the conclusion of the upcoming talks in relation to the North, this would give Fianna Fáil plenty of time to consider a successor.
It would also afford Bertie an opportunity to crown his greatest contribution, which was the part he played in helping to forge the Good Friday Agreement
Ryle Dwyer (Examiner)
On Thursday, September 21, 2006 the day the story of payments to Mr Ahern first emerged, he criticised the Irish Times report as being "unfair" and the result of an "unjust leak". He also questioned the accuracy of the sums reported, between €50,000 and €100,000 as "off the wall".
He said he was not answering any questions about what he got for his Holy Communion money, his Confirmation money, or his birthday, declaring that it was nobody's business.
The row escalated until his RTE interview when, in fact, he revealed that the main thrust of the article, including the sum involved - €50,000 - was essentially correct.
In his RTE interview, Mr Ahern also disclosed the identities of 12 people who had paid him the two sums of money. These friends were his former solicitor, the late Gerry Brennan, Paddy Reilly, Des Richardson, Padraig O'Connor, Jim Nugent, David McKenna, the late Fintan Gunne, Mick Collins, Charlie Chawke, Joe Burke, Dermot Carew, Barry English and Paddy Reilly aka, Paddy the Plasterer.
Some were well-known business figures, some had sat on State boards and others were names not known in the public domain.
'Honest." "Straight." "Sincere." When John O'Donoghue and other ministers used such words to back Bertie after his interview on RTE, it heightened suspicions that there was more to his performance than met the eye. They sounded like they were "on message".
But was Bertie's performance a carefully calculated ploy by the backroom boys and girls of Fianna Fail? Was he really about to cry as he recalled his children's financial needs when his marriage broke up? Had he really a lump in his throat - or a tongue in his cheek? Had his handlers deliberately left his tie a little loose, to make him seem vulnerable?
Interviewed by Bryan Dobson last Tuesday, Bertie seemed sincere. During what he described as "a very dark" and "very sad" period of marital break-up, he had taken money from friends and was now paying politically for that decision.
He once signed blank cheques for his then boss, Charlie Haughey. But his own friends handed Bertie specific sums of between £2,500 and £5,000.
Bertie told Bryan: "The trouble was that, em, in the separation I agreed to provide £20,000 for my children to an education account: that was part of the agreement that I made." Saying this, he grimaced, as though he had just tasted something unpleasant, sighed, and confided to the nation: "I don't like to give these details of my children - but for completeness."
Bertie rushed on, referring back to the agreed £20,000 saying, " . . . and I did that." He stopped then for four long seconds, looked down and pushed his tongue forward until it protruded slightly between clenched lips. He appeared to be struggling to control his emotions, yet bravely lifted his chin towards Bryan Dobson to finish answering. "And I also had to pay off other bills, so the money I'd saved was gone. So, my friends knew that. I had no house. The house was gone so they decided to try and help."
He sounded crestfallen, the slight sadness in his tone having raised an expectation that tears might roll down his cheeks at any moment.
But was Bertie so upset by the memory of dark days alone? Or was the Taoiseach really raging at having to give an account of himself? Or burning with humiliation because these payments will blot his record of achievements? Could he even have faked some of that emotion, playing up his image as an ordinary man who just happens to find himself Taoiseach?
Bertie and Fianna Fail couldn't blame the media this time. The Taoiseach was choosing freely to use television to spread details of his private life, for political purposes. Nobody forced him to talk about the nuts and bolts of his settlement. He could have said simply that he needed the money for urgent, private purposes to do with his separation, and left it at that. He did not have to mention the children.
Suspicions that this was a managed media performance surely rose when he moved directly from talking about his children to speaking about a large sum of money he received when he met a couple of dozen unidentified business people in Manchester. Viewers would still be absorbing the emotion while he talked through the evident embarrassment of taking £8,000 in money contrary to Cabinet practice.
"I don't want anyone saying I didn't give the full picture," he told Dobson, in a manner suggesting deep hurt at the notion that someone might even think such a thing. Yet, just days earlier he had described as "off the walls" figures for cash payments that he now cooly confirmed on RTE.
In fact, he immediately went on to give a less-than-full picture of that Manchester payment, his garbled words telling viewers almost nothing about the function or functions for which he was paid. He looked uncomfortable.
Bertie "came clean" on anything likely to emerge from the tribunals. Like Ben Dunne after his mishap in Florida, he may have been reminded by spindoctors that making a clean breast of everything is often better than letting the truth emerge slowly.
After the interview, FF and their PD partners quickly played up the "straight" angle. They excused Bertie's error of judgement as "honest". If only Charlie Haughey had lived to see this.
And, yes, Bertie really did say on RTE last week: "There were no favours sought, no favours given." Now, where have we heard that before? I suspect that the phrase slipped out of Bertie's unconscious, and was not on his prepared typed notes that he was clutching.
Where else could a prime minister so easily defend himself against suspicions that he had appointed people to State boards in return for cash payments by saying simply, (in a "tsk, tsk" tone), that "Iappointed them because they were friends".
To judge by the ever-growing number of State bodies, Fianna Fail ministers must have a lot of friends. An Irish Times headline proclaimed last week: "Four of 12 money donors have served onpublic boards." Surely, the real news story was, "Eight of 12 money donors have not served on public boards"?
Bertie made a virtue of the fact that, being an accountant, he has kept "probably as good records as there is" since 1977. He told Dobson: "I've given you the only three things; there might be a few small ones but I tried to match up every single issue." He did not say what "small ones" he meant, or how "small", or if he entered all payments in his records.
He began the interview witha long recital of false and disproven allegations that he says have been made against him. If this wasspin-doctoring, it was alsohigh-risk. Some citizens will always suspect that there is no smoke without fire.
Dobson did well. Politicians sometimes opt for news interviews because they regard them as softer options than appearing on current affairs programmes. But, during this 25-minute interview, Bryan discomfited Bertie by quoting Judge McCracken and by reminding the Taoiseach that £38,000 in 1993 "would have bought you a house here in the city of Dublin".
The Taoiseach was in a tight corner politically, and RTE stuck him in a tight corner visually. He was against a radiator where two walls met, one red and one cream, with a shelf sprouting from his right shoulder. His head was fussily set against the frame of a painting on the wall behind him. By contrast, Dobson sat serenely in a wide-shot, his pretty pink tie well-knotted and daintily offset by a vase of flowers and a plant.
Bertie could not resist a concluding dig at those journalists who have been pursuing him to account for the controversial payments: "It is ridiculous that wherever I've gone for the last week, that there has been 50 journalists running around behind me, like pied pipers."
But the Taoiseach got his analogy wrong. For there was just one Pied Piper of Hamelin in that old story, and he actually deceived those chasing him.
Colum Kenny (Sunday Business post)