THE legend of Bertie Ahern's lofty lack of interest in money has rarely been sung more loudly than in Drumcondra last week,(Sept 2006) to a chorus of 'he didn't have a bean'.
Unlike more star-struck politicians such as Michael Lowry and Charles Haughey, who lapped up Ben Dunne's largesse, Ahern, the spin goes, wasn't interested in money. Haughey wore Charvet shirts, kept a mistress and dined at Le Coq Hardi. Ahern wore a duffle coat, drank Bass in his local pub and became involved with Celia Larkin, his constituency organiser, after his marriage collapsed in 1989. Power,and sex,and political intrigue, his favourite pastimes.Wealth-a poor number four on the list.
"He strikes me as the kind of guy who hasn't a button and isn't interested in having a button. He never was a spender. Way, way back he had a Opel Record, it was nearer the bottom of the range than the top of the range. You'd never hear of him, in all the years I've known him, spending money," said one associate.(Was he a tight bastard then?)
At the time, he was Minister for Labour in Charles Haughey's government but, as his political career soared, his personal life became complicated. He had wed Miriam Kelly when he was 24, they had two children, Georgina and Cecelia, but the pressures of vaulting ambition and the long hours of qualifying for a Cabinet post took its toll on their marriage.
(You cant have it all..and a happy marriage )
He moved out of the family home in Malahide in 1989 and into St Luke's, (after the breakup) the constituency office bought on trust for Fianna Fail the previous year. The two story red-brick former doctor's surgery in the heart of Mr Ahern's constituency in Drumcondra was bought with a mortgage of about £60,000 in 1988 and held in the name of five trustees. They raised another £50,000 to refurbish it into an apartment upstairs and constituency offices below. Bertie Ahern lived there rent-free and an annual fundraiser covered the cost of the bills. The office is the heart of Mr Ahern's political machine. He carried out business there by day and slept there by night. The story goes that, in the early days, he didn't even have a proper bed and slept rough in a sleeping bag.
His friends rallied around. The trustees of St Luke's included some of Mr Ahern's closest friends, many of whom he had known for decades, largely through sport, and who had supported him throughout his rising political career.
Amongst them was Des Richardson, a businessman and accountant. They met at Shamrock Rovers matches in the Seventies. Mr Richardson is a southsider who lives in Foxrock, - his friendship with the northside politician forged on their shared interest in sport, politics and religion. Mr Richardson admired the aspiring politician and was an early presence in his emerging 'kitchen cabinet'.
In 1993 Mr Ahern appointed Mr Richardson as a full-time fundraiser for Fianna Fail. He operated from a room in the Berkeley Court hotel, where businessmen discreetly dropped in their donations to the party.
Mr Richardson introduced others to the circle, including Gerry Brennan, the late solicitor who went to school with Mr Richardson, and David McKenna, also a Shamrock Rovers fan and a former plumber who was on his way to making a fortune from his recruitment business. Mr McKenna was another a long-standing friend of Mr Richardson's.
The group were all like-minded individuals, all believers in Mr Ahern's brand of pragmatic politics and keen to keep his election machine oiled. They worked alongside the local constituency grafters, who walked the streets with Mr Ahern on his campaign trail and devoted weekends to sticking up election posters.
Amongst those was Chris Wall, another sporting fanatic who worked in the pharmaceutical business, and Joe Burke, a former councillor who now organises Mr Ahern's annual constituency fundraiser. Tim Collins, another trustee of the Taoiseach's constituency office, was a long-standing friend of 25 years. Collectively they became known as the 'Drumcondra Mafia', who ran one of the tightest constituencies in the country.
When the Aherns went through the process of a legal separation, the late Gerry Brennan, who died in 1997, stepped in to act for Mr Ahern. As with all separation agreements, the negotiations would have included thrashing out what percentage of Mr Ahern's earnings would go to his family and there was the issue of the family home as well, where Miriam and her daughters continued to reside. The separation went through in 1993, leaving Mr Ahern with a legal bill which, according to sources, was £5,000 to £10,000.
It was Mr Brennan's idea to take care of that too. According to sources, Mr Brennan decided to organise a whip around amongst Mr Ahern's close friends to cover the legal costs.
At first, reports last week claimed that three or four people contributed to Mr Ahern's legal fund, including David McKenna. By Friday evening, the story had changed again when sources in Fianna Fail revealed that up to 10 or 11 people had contributed. They elaborated that Mr Ahern knew nothing about it. They likened it to an early Christmas present organised to help out a friend who was going through hard times. They claimed that no tax liabilities were incurred, because the amount raised was less than £11,400, which was the threshold for gift tax at the time. But yesterday it emerged that this could be as high as €25-30,000.
A source close to the Taoiseach offered his understanding of what happened. "Gerry Brennan was looking after that domestic scene. Himself and Des and three or four others are pals from way back. Gerry accrued the costs and these were settled within the group. They are just pals together." When Mr Ahern heard about the good deed, the source said, it was presented to him as a fait accompli. The state of Mr Ahern's finances must have been poorly if his friends thought it necessary to give him a helping hand with the legal fees.
But he was earning a good salary and probably could have got a bank loan without difficulty. He was by then finance minister in Albert Reynold's government, earning a salary of about £59,000, or the equivalent of €76,000, well in excess of the average wage. It was a year of 15.4 per cent unemployment, compared with 4.3 per cent today, and the price of the average house was still below €100,000.
Although Mr Ahern lived rent-free and financed the running of his expensive command centre in St Luke's through annual fundraisers, friends said he had heavy outgoings as a result of supporting his wife and two children throughout their parting.
Fianna Fail sources said last week that Mr Ahern tried to regularise the situation. "He offered to pay back the money to his pals, but they declined." But it's still not clear when he offered to repay the money. In 1997, the Sunday Independent got wind of a story that, soon after he became Taoiseach, Mr Ahern had repaid some friends who had bailed him out of a tricky financial situation some years back.
Verifying the story proved impossible at the time. None of the protagonists would confirm the claims, and it was soon overtaken by other serious allegations of corruption and wrongdoing at the heart of politics.
"It is quite unacceptable that a member of Dail Eireann, and in particular a Cabinet minister and Taoiseach, should be supported in his personal lifestyle by gifts made to him personally. It is particularly unacceptable that such gifts should emanate from prominent businessmen within the State. The possibility that political or financial favours could be sought in return for such gifts, or even be given without being sought, is very high and if such gifts are permissible, they would inevitably lead in some cases to bribery and corruption." (Bartholmew Ahern,s own words.!)
Bartholmew Ahern did not flinchin his response to Mr McCracken's report. He overlooked his own private financial favour to declare himself of a similar mind to the tribunal judge. "Some of the judgments of the tribunal are verysimilar to the points that I made myself when it was established, when I said that the public needed 'an absolute guarantee of the financial probity of and integrity of their elected representatives' and 'to know that they are not under financial obligations to anybody,' he said in September 1997.
Last week, he changed his tune. On Thursday morning, the Irish Times published leaked reports that the Mahon tribunal was investigating claims that Mr Ahern had received up to £50,000 to £100,000 from three or four people, apparently to settle legal fees in December 1993. After years of successfully dismissing allegations that he got money from the wealthy businessman, Owen O'Callaghan, it seemed that Mr Ahern did get money while he was a government minister. Not from wealthy businessmen and not for his personal enrichment. But an ignominious "few 2thousand stumped up by a cabal of pals to help see him through a financial hiccup caused by his legal separation from his wife.
IN an interview with a local radio station in Clare last Thursday morning, he declared the matter was nobody's business.
What most irked Mr Ahern was that he had given the information in 1999 to disprove allegations that he had received money from Owen O'Callaghan, the Cork-based property developer and generous donor to Fianna Fail. Mr Ahern was vindicated when he successfully sued a Cork man, Denis 'Starry' O'Brien, who claimed to have given the Taoiseach £50,000 on behalf of Mr O'Callaghan in a car park. Allegations made by Tom Gilmartin, a builder who made his fortune in the UK, have yet to be heard in public by the planning tribunal. Hehas alleged that Mr O'Callaghan made two payments to have been made to Bertie Ahern when he was minister for finance, the am-ounts being £50,000 and £30,000. In its opening statement on Quarryvale last year, the tribunal said Mr Ahern said he never received the money and Mr O'Callaghan had said he had never given it.
Furious, Mr Ahern returned to Dublin to begin legal proceedings in the High Court to stop the Mahon tribunal obtaining details of his marital separation from the Family Court and fired off an angry letter to the Mahon tribunal. On Friday morning, he denounced the leak as "sinister". The media attention on the personally traumatic period of his life was exactly the response what the leakers had intended to provoke.
Mr Ahern's supporters and even opposition parties believe that his anger is justified. Fine Gael and Labour have both said that it was wrong that his confidential dealings over such a personal matter were leaked to the tribunal.
"I would suspect that he is annoyed because it is going to dig into that side of his life that was obviously traumatic for him and for his family and also for poor Gerry and his family," said one friend.
But now that the payments are in the public domain, the parties insist that a full explanation is required of the Taoiseach. No one is going for the jugular, least of all because the case involves details of the Taoiseach's personal life.
The questions posed by Eamon Gilmore, the Labour Party TD, remain unanswered. Who gave the money, how much and what for?
Mr Ahern's payments may be utterly innocuous, but they will inevitably raise more questions about the potent realm where business and politics converge. They will also draw his intricate network of friends and supporters under the unremitting and unwelcome scrutiny of the tribunal. There is no suggestion that any of the 10 individuals - all unnamed apart from David McKenna and Gerry Brennan - profited from giving Mr Ahern a dig out.
However, some of his friends have enjoyed the prestige of association with the Taoiseach. Several were appointed to State boards, enjoying the associated perks and status. Des Richardson and Chris Wall were appointed to the board of Aer Lingus. Joe Burke, one-time Fianna Fail Dublin city councillor, a builder and friend of the Taoiseach, was appointed as chairman of Dublin Port Company in 2002. Mr Ahern defended his friend's appointment, saying he had "a number of attributes" including his wife's family, who was "very involved in the port, is from the port, and lived in the port".
Tim Collins was also appointed to Enterprise Ireland in 1998, a position which is unlikely to hinder the work of man who made a nice living as a land scout, introducing land owners to property developers. David McKenna, whose contribution to Mr Ahern's legal fund was reportedly £2,500, was appointed to the board of Enterprise Ireland and stepped down in 2002.
Others in Mr Ahern's coterie have had brushes with the tribunals, through their associations with some of the most dubious names in the business. Des Richardson once owned a share of a business with Frank Dunlop, the government press secretary turned lobbyist who admitted bribing politicians on behalf of wealthy clients in return for planning favours. His association brought him to the attention of the Mahon tribunal, although there was no suggestion of any wrongdoing on his part. Tim Collins, a land scout, made a hefty profit of £600,000 when he introduced developers to the Battle of the Boyne site, which was investigated by the Mahon tribunal. But he failed to mention his interest in the company to the tribunal, prompting the censure of tribunal judges. Joe Burke was summoned before the Mahon tribunal to account for his dealings, on behalf of Bertie Ahern, with Tom Gilmartin, the builder.
When the Dail resumes next week with a barrage of questions for the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern will be reminded that he positioned himself as a political leader who would deliver on transparency and integrity in public life.
Maeve Sheehan(Irish Independent)
Sunday September 16 2007 Gene Kerrigan. Independent.Its the raw cash that screams loud,he writes:
HERE, from the witness stand at the Planning Tribunal, is some good advice from Celia Larkin: "I've long since learnt not to necessarily believe what you read in the newspapers." And, do you know what -- I've been thinking exactly the same thing myself. And I'm going to tell you some of the things that I've recently read in newspapers that I just don't believe.
For a year, we've been reading story after story about how a whole lot of money just kind of blew in the window and landed in Bertie Ahern's pocket (or words to that effect). After a long week of evidence from Mr Ahern, from Celia Larkin and from their friend Michael Wall -- well, I'm sorry, folks, but I'm with Celia on this one. The papers are full of stuff I just can't believe.
Stuff about dig-outs and dinners and stories of how parcels and briefcases of money came into Mr Ahern's possession.
Over the past year I've taken it all seriously, trying to work out what lodgement went into which account on whatever date.
Over the past week, I've gone goggle-eyed reading transcripts of evidence, making notes and even drawing little diagrams. I could give you a very long, exquisitely detailed and thoroughly confusing account of lodgements and withdrawals. In fact, on other occasions, in these pages, we've done exactly that.
But, enough's enough. There's only one word -- blunt and crude as it might be -- that's appropriate to what we've heard. And that word is bullshit.
Apart from the exquisite detail -- some of which we'll come to in a moment -- there's a dirty big word at the heart of all this that screams very loudly. And that word is cash. Not cheques or money orders or anything traceable, just big, ugly lumps of used banknotes.
Here's the story that's been all over the newspapers for the past year, with some of the most respectable members of the establishment insisting we had to believe it.
Back in 1994, Bertie Ahern was in rag order, his marriage falling apart, his finances in bits. Some close friends kicked in a couple of "dig-outs" to help him, and some Manchester businessmen did the same. End of story.
Nothing wrong with that except: back in 1994, Bertie Ahern's marriage had broken up seven years earlier and he was now in a long-term relationship with Celia Larkin. He was financially secure, successful in a high-paying job. So much so (if we believe him), that he had savings of at least 50 grand.
Last week, as the Planning Tribunal leaned gently on Mr Ahern's story, it snapped like a dry twig.
You want boring details? We got details -- and, this time, maybe not so boring. Take the "dig-out" that netted Mr Ahern £16,500. Heart-warming, wasn't it? All those noble friends, generously helping out their troubled mate.
On the detailed evidence, I don't believe it happened. Could be wrong, something similar might have happened some other time.
And the Manchester dinner where the generous (but unnamed) businessmen allegedly coughed up £8,000 sterling -- I don't believe that ever happened. Look at the facts.
In private, Mr Ahern provided the Planning Tribunal with specific evidence, including two detailed reports from an accountant he brought in to help. He said he put the £16,500 dig-out money together with the £8,000 sterling and he lodged it all in AIB on October 11, 1994 -- being credited with IR£24,838.49. The tribunal checked the bank records and the sterling element didn't add up. However, they saw that if someone made a £25,000 sterling lodgement that day it would equate precisely to IR£24,838.49.
In addition, that AIB branch routinely took in around £2,000 in sterling per day -- except on October 11, 1994, when it took in over £27,000 in sterling.
So, the evidence suggests that someone lodged £25,000 sterling that day. Which suggests maybe someone got IR£24,838.49 when the foreign exchange was worked out. But, no, it wasn't Mr Ahern. He didn't lodge 25 grand in sterling, he lodged the money from the dig-out and the Manchester dinner.
(And, says Mr Ahern, to get that IR£24,838.49 for 25 grand sterling, the bank would have had to apply an inappropriate rate, to the detriment of the customer. And, of course, AIB would never overcharge).
Then there's the 30 grand that Michael Wall allegedly brought over from Manchester to pay for a conservatory in the house he didn't yet own. Leave aside all the detail -- look at the elephant in the room. Cash, cash, cash. Piles of it, briefcases full of it, parcels and safes, with tens of thousands in cash.
Why is so much of the money in these huge, unusual and controversial lodgements in cash, instead of convenient and easily traceable documents such as cheques and money orders?
Michael Wall explained, "I dealt in cash all of the time." But that's not true.
When he paid a booking deposit of £3,000 on the house he paid by cheque. And the balance of the deposit, £10,800, was also paid by cheque. And when he had to pay another £28,000 what did he do? He contacted his bank, National Westminster, and arranged a transfer.
Why did Mr Ahern keep chunks of cash in his safe, why did he have Celia Larkin running back and forth with bulging briefcases?
Here's Celia's explanation. "The general idea was that you have more ready access to it. That was the idea of it. Bertie dealt in cash. I think he felt more comfortable with it."
You'd imagine we're dealing with some kind of mountainy man, ill-at-ease with instruments of commerce.
Bertie Ahern is one of the smartest politicians in Europe, an accountant, a former minister for finance, who has forgotten more about financial mechanisms than most of us will ever know. It was for comfort, was it, that Mr Ahern was sitting around the corner from the bank, at the wheel of a car, the engine running as he waited for Ms Larkin to emerge with a parcel of cash?
The money Celia Larkin lodged on December 5, 1994 was allegedly sterling brought over from England by Michael Wall. Her account was credited with IR£28,772.90. The tribunal found that that equates to $45,000, to the penny. If what this implies is true, we've entered the 'twilight zone.'
Mr Ahern's lawyers have created some financial formula which contradicts this suggestion and they might be right. It's not a secret formula, they say, but they're keeping it secret. They reserve the right to question witnesses on the basis of this formula. But they'd rather not reveal it.
The detail we've heard undermines Mr Ahern's explanations for the huge amounts of money that came into his possession in 1993/94. And the fact that so much raw cash is involved screams a warning.
Then, there's the manner in which Mr Ahern met the tribunal's request for explanations.
At the end of 2004, when the rest of us were blissfully unaware of any of this, Mr Ahern contacted his bank and asked for details of a number of specific transactions. These were the precise transactions that were worrying the Planning Tribunal -- but the Planning Tribunal had not then informed Mr Ahern of that fact. He knew from the start where the problem would lie.
After that, the explanations of the dig-outs and the Manchester dinner and the 30 grand for a conservatory emerged.
In public, since then, Mr Ahern has loudly proclaimed his desire to get onto the witness stand. Offstage, his lawyers fought to limit the tribunal's inquiries.
As the tribunal finds holes in Mr Ahern's explanations, the stories change. It mightn't have been exactly £16,500, and maybe he spent a few quid from the £8,000 before it was lodged. Yada yada.
What was going on? I don't know. The Planning Tribunal uncovered disquieting facts, and the explanations of those facts range from hard-to-believe to downright absurd.
I doubt we'll ever know for certain what happened. But the simple days when we heard stories about dig-outs and Manchester benefactors and we took them seriously -- well, to paraphrase Yeats, gullible Ireland's dead and gone, it's with Charlie Haughey in the grave.
An old vulture named Hockey
Got exceedingly cocky,
While he feathered his lair near Kinsealy,
He proceeded to milk,
Ben Dunne and his ilk,
Did he do them some favours ?- not really.!
The Lesser -Beaked Bertie
Got exceedingly shirty
when accused of a like minded crime,
Some money was found-it was just a whipround,
and you all know he hadnt a dime.!"
With artful cunning
Performance quite stunning,
His soul he laid bare to the nation,
RTE said "Dont cry,
Take that tear from your eye,
For we know twas a bad situation.!"
Your wife and her shysters
Dined on champagne and oysters,
While you slept out rough in "St Lukes"
Thank God you avoided
The troubles outside it
Builders,and bankers, are far the worse crooks.!
But now your in clover,
Your trials are over,
Youve reaped the rewards of your toil:
Each mortgage, stamp duty,
Daily adds to your booty,
5 more years are assured with such guile.
Your vice is not Greed,
"Power" is all that you need,
Being called "Boss" at the end of each day.
But its hard to contain,
The avarice & Gain,
Of T.D.s as they frolic and play.
When you climb up a tree,
Find an errant T.D.,
Uncovered, by media hacks;
To the "Gene Pool" he goes,
Or to worser woes,
Arbour Hill, for evasion of tax.!
Their sworn testimony,
Is pure baloney,
With bluster, and lies, we contend,
But frozen sleet,
On a Moscow street,
Quickly brought that charade to an end.
1 Who are the unidentified businessmen who came together to give you money in 1993?
2 How much did they give you?
3 To what purpose was the money put?
4 Was it clearly stated at the time the money was given that it was a repayable loan?
5 Was it an interest-free loan, and if not, what was the rate of interest?
6 Was any of the money, either because an element of it was a gift or because you had the use of it for a period,liable for tax?
7 If there were any tax liabilities in respect of this money, were they discharged in the normal way at the time they arose or was the situation regularised later?
8 Were any of the people who gave/loaned the money involved in any enterprise that involved applying for planning permission, seeking tax-designated status, or anything else that might have been relevant to you as a politician in general and/or as Finance Minister in particular?
9 Did any of them ever make any representation to you on any such matter?
10 Do you still believe that no politician should be under any obligation by virtue of accepting money, as you said in 1997 at the time of the setting up of the tribunal?
11 Does the fact that the money was arranged by another individual without your direct involvement and that that individual is now dead, mean that you intend using the "dead man" defence, pioneered by Charles Haughey?
12 Do you also intend to use the "no favours asked, none given" defence, also used by Mr Haughey and others?
13 Did you pay all of the money back, or just some of it, and when did this occur. If you only paid some of it back, what is the position on the money that remains unpaid?
14 If this money or part of it was repaid in 1997, was it a coincidence that you appear to have made the repayment just before the setting up of the tribunal and your own election as Taoiseach?
15 If you have given the tribunal all the information about your separation and your legal fees and how you funded them, as you said, why are you planning to go to court to seek to prevent the tribunal verifying this information?
16 Do you agree that the payment/lending of this money to you is something which the Mahon tribunal is properly inquiring into?
17 Do you believe the details of these payments/loans were leaked to damage you by a) someone associated with the tribunal; b) someone associated with one of the businessmen who gave the money; c) political opponents in your own party; or d) political opponents in the opposition?
18 Have you given the Tanaiste a full report on the issue? Is this putting a strain on FF relations with the PDs?
19 Is this the kind of issue that under new privacy legislation, the media would be prohibited from discussing?
20 Would you accept that the whole matter of your separation and how it was handled would not be in the public arena if you had not accepted money in connection with it?
ONE of the main fundraisers for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's constituency has been linked to a business consortium being investigated by the Mahon Tribunal.
It has been alleged that land agent Tim Collins was the person who introduced lobbyist Frank Dunlop to a businessman who was trying to get land rezoned near Dublin Airport.
Mr Dunlop told the tribunal that Mr Collins, who was one of the fundraisers for Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, had introduced him to one of his former clients, John Butler. Mr Butler is a member of a consortium that retained Mr Dunlop to lobby county councillors on land rezoning in north Co Dublin.
Mr Butler has claimed that the lobbyist wanted the businessmen to pay money to advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi on behalf of Fianna Fail, in lieu of the fees due to him.
This was said to be part of a "a pick-me-up arrangement", which was a legitimate way of political fundraising in the 1990s.
Yesterday, Mr Dunlop denied to the tribunal that he had never asked a client to pay this "pick-me-up".
The lobbyist said it was a "divine revelation" to be told that Mr Butler was saying these things about him.
Des Richardson, formerly investigated by the tribunal, "was part of the same team, part of the fundraising group which raised funds for the Taoiseach," Mr Dunlop said.
"When Mr Ahern was appointed Minister for Finance, he appointed Mr Richardson as fundraiser for Fianna Fail and Mr Richardson later became an officer at Marlborough Recruitment."
He added: "Mr Tim Collins was a well-known supporter of a particular politician in a particular constituency."
Mr Dunlop said that he had met Mr Collins at fundraising functions for Fianna Fail, including those held at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
These particular functions were organised by Joe Burke and were for the party's O'Donovan Rossa Cumann. "Bertie Ahern, whether as a minister or a TD or a member of the opposition, was always the guest of honour," Mr Dunlop added.
He said he was a little bit curious as to why Mr Butler, whom he would have suspected of being a Fianna Fail supporter, tried to transfer the responsibility for the "pick-me-up" to him.
Lorna Reid (Irish Independent)
Ahern’s numbers game just doesn’t add up
16 September 2007 Sunday Business Post By Vincent Browne
The latest version of Bertie Ahern’s story about his money is roughly as follows.
He operated no bank account between 1987 and 1993,while he was going through the ordeal of a marital break-up,(was he cheating his wife on the divvy up?) but he managed to save IR£50,000 during this period, while paying family maintenance of around IR£18,000 a year (which, on average, would have been around €25,000) out of his post-tax income.
He would have had to save almost all of his residual income (after paying maintenance) to have accumulated IR£50,000 during this period.
Then, in December 1993,he got a ‘dig-out’ from his friends of IR£22,500.Why his friends considered he needed a dig-out when he had managed to save IR£50,000, and had bank loans to cover legal costs associated with his marriage litigation, is unclear.
He lodged this in a bank account that he opened in AIB on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Ten months later, in October 1994, he got another dig-out from another bunch of friends - this time, very close friends who, for some reason, did not cough up in December 1993. The amount handed over this time was IR£16,500.
He says that, in October 1994 (or it could have been May 1994, he’s not sure), he was given stg£8,000 by a group of Manchester businessmen.
Shortly afterwards, he deposited in one lump sum the stg£8,000 he got in Manchester in October or May, with the IR£16,500. (If he got the stg£8,000 in May, he must have kept it in his safe at St Luke’s, his constituency office, for five months, instead of allowing it to earn interest in a deposit account.)
Then, in late 1994, when he and everyone else were expecting him to become taoiseach after the fall of the Albert Reynolds government, he decided that he should rent or buy a house. Coincidentally, a close Manchester-based friend, Michael Wall, also wanted to buy a house where he could stay occasionally on his trips to Dublin.
Ahern and Wall did a deal whereby Wall would buy a house in Beresford Avenue, Drumcondra, and Ahern would rent it from him, with an option to purchase.
Wall arranged to buy the house in late November, knowing that the sale would not be completed for several months. Nevertheless, out of the blue, he arrived in Ahern’s office in the early afternoon of Saturday, December 5, 1994 (Ahern was expected to become taoiseach the following Tuesday) with a bag full of cash. The stg£30,000 was said to be for structural work on the house.
Ahern decided that same day that he would come up with IR£50,000 for the further refurbishment of this house, which was four years old and had cost just IR£138,000. In other words, they were proposing to spend close to 60 per cent of the value of a new house on its further refurbishment.
This was a house which Wall had seen just once. There is no evidence that Ahern had seen it at all. There is also no suggestion that they paid an architect or an engineer to look at the house and suggest what might be done or whatever. There is little enough evidence that either of them looked at other houses.
Celia Larkin, Ahern’s partner at the time, was asked to take charge of the refurbishment. She opened two bank accounts at AIB on O’Connell Street - one for Ahern’s IR£50,000, the other for Wall’s stg£30,000.
She took advice from a solicitor in a pub on the Saturday night as to how best she might administer Wall’s money. Curiously, when she took the money to the bank the following Monday, she did not count it, and was not present when a bank official counted it.
Amazingly, a few weeks afterwards, the IR£50,000 was withdrawn from Ahern’s account in cash and lodged again in his safe in St Luke’s. Various reasons have been given for this withdrawal - that Ahern thought it would be better to have the money in cash so they could buy items for the house more easily (it is not clear why), or, as he said in his opening statement last Thursday, he had gone off the idea of renting the Beresford house.
However, neither Larkin nor Wall were apparently aware of this change of mind.
Then Ahern withdrew Wall’s money, apparently to return it to him, but subsequently put it back into the bank in two instalments, for reasons which are also not clear.
It has emerged that the lodgment comprising the IR£16,500-plus from the second dig-out and the stg£8,000 from the Manchester friends a mounted to exactly stg£25,000 on the date that the lodgment was made.
If this is true, then why are there four friends who are willing to say that they gave Ahern IR£16,500 at the time? Curiously, there is nobody around from Manchester who can authenticate the stg£8,000 from there.
Then there is the odd thing about the lodgment on Monday, December 7, comprising approximately stg£30,000 from Wall, which happens to coincide exactly with a lodgment of US$45,000 on the day. Even stranger, Wall later made a will leaving the Beresford Avenue house to Ahern in the event of his death.
Bad-minded people are questioning whether there was a second dig-out and a Manchester dinner donation at all: perhaps there was just a straightforward donation of stg£25,000 for some reason or another, from somebody or other. These same cynical people are saying that the story about the Wall money is not believable either.
All this has emerged in the context of an allegation by Tom Gilmartin that Owen O’Callaghan told him he had given two donations to Ahern when he was Minister for Finance - one for IR£30,000, and the other for IR£50,000.
The investigations of the Planning Tribunal into all of this have been impressive, but the laboriousness of the procedure in public sessions, the long-winded questions - sometimes going on for over a minute at a time - and the sheer tediousness of it all may dull the reaction to its findings.
However, that was not so for at least some of the 500 spectators last Friday afternoon who booed Ahern as he was leaving the Lower Castle Yard. It was all strongly reminiscent of the public reaction in 2000 to Charles Haughey’s departure from the Upper Castle Yard after he had given evidence at another tribunal. Not the most welcome of comparisons for our Taoiseach
"Taoiseach’s tale about stg£30,000 is implausible"
30 September 2007 By Vincent Browne
Almost certainly the Mahon Tribunal will conclude that Bertie Ahern got no payments from Owen O’Callaghan or that there is insufficient evidence to find that he did.
This will almost certainly be claimed by Fianna Fail as a vindication of Ahern, especially as the tribunal may feel precluded from making any observations on the credibility of his explanations for the sums of money that flushed through his accounts in 1994 and 1995.
Since Ahern’s relevance to the tribunal has solely to do with the Quarryvale issue, any other financial dealings he has had are of no relevance.
The tribunal may be precluded from commenting even on whether it considers his explanations about the sums of money that went through his accounts is credible. But that is not the end of the matter for the tribunal
It may decide that Ahern failed to cooperate adequately with the tribunal and, on that basis, go through in some detail the tortuous processes by which it extracted information from him, how he withheld information and how this delayed the tribunal’s work by several months.
It might also refuse him some or all of his legal costs and might even fix some of the tribunal’s legal costs on him.
But, the probability is that the tribunal will be precluded from making any comment on the credibility of Ahern’s account of his financial dealings.
But, by then, it is likely to be irrelevant. Because by then - some two to three years given the tribunal’s modus operandi - Ahern is likely to have fled his perch, voluntarily or involuntarily.
And, as I suggested here last week, this is likely to be sooner rather than later. Because Ahern will be back at the tribunal in a few months explaining his Irish currency transactions and the purchase of the house on Beresford Avenue and, by the time, that is over his position may be untenable.
On radio last Saturday and then in the Dail on Wednesday, Ahern insisted the unusualness of his financial transactions arose entirely because of his marital separation. This is implausible.
He separated from his wife in 1987. The litigation arising from that ended in November 1993.The monies that are of interest arise from lodgments to his accounts or accounts related to him, lodgments made a year after his marital separation business was over and done with.
Indeed, the most curious of his financial transactions took place almost two years after hismarital separation.
In the prepared statement which he read at the outset of his evidence to the tribunal he raised a hare which he has had to follow since: that in early 1995 he had changed his mind about renting the house on Beresford Avenue, but then had changed his mind again.
Thiswas relevant tothemost curious of all his curious transactions during that period: the emergence of another stg£30,000 in 1995. He said that, when in early 1995, he changed his mind about the house, he brought stg£30,000 of his own cash to ‘‘pay back’’ Michael Wall the stg£30,000 that Wall had handed over on December 5,1994.
But what was this ‘‘pay back’’? According to his other evidence, Wall had given him no money. Wall had given stg£30,000 to Celia Larkin which she had lodged in a special account in her own name.
This was never Ahern’s money according to himself and was never intended for him. So what was this ‘‘pay back’’? But he claims that when he changed his mind about renting the house he felt he needed to arrange for Wall to get his money back, money that was gong to be used for the refurbishment of the house.
And, instead of arranging for the money to be withdrawn from the account into which Wall’s money had been lodged, Ahern brought stg£30,000 himself.
In the Dail last Wednesday, he said he had been reminded by ‘‘a number of people’’ about his change of mind about the house, when the whole business about the house got publicity several months ago.
He did say this at the tribunal, but he was never pressed as to who these people were that reminded him that he was looking at other houses.
For, if he was looking at other houses, it would give some credence to his claim that at the time he had decided to arrange for Wall to get his money back.
It would also be of assistance if he could name the estate agents with which he had been in contact and specifically the houses he viewed; even at a remove of 12 years that should not be impossible.
But even aside from that, the claim about buying stg£30,000 from cash he had in his safe is hard to believe, given there is no record in any of the banks with which he had dealings of the purchase of anything like that amount of sterling around the time in question.
Is it the case that he got a further stg£30,000 from somewhere and has had to explain how he came by that amount?
Finally, a special tribute in song to Bertie & Celia