Read Bertie Ahern: The Man Who Blew the Boom: Power & Money Online

Authors: Colm Keena

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Bertie Ahern: The Man Who Blew the Boom: Power & Money (3 page)

BOOK: Bertie Ahern: The Man Who Blew the Boom: Power & Money
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It was magnetic television:

I was not impoverished when I was going through the separation. It was a very dark period for me, and a very sad period for me. I didn’t, I had taken out a loan like anyone else would, but colleagues knew what the situation was. From 1987 when I separated from Miriam until the end of 1993 was a long protracted period. That happens in family law cases. And delays and delay for one reason or another.
Miriam was, I had no account in my own name in that period. Miriam had joint accounts and I paid Miriam maintenance but also saved money during that period and I’d saved quite a substantial amount of money because it was from the time I was Lord Mayor in 1986. I’d saved in the order of £50,000.
The trouble was that in the separation I agreed to provide £20,000 for my children to an educational account as part of the agreement that I made. [
Lowers his eyes and composes himself
.] I don’t like giving details of the children but, for completeness, I did that. 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 me.

On the crucial question of whether the favours were ever called in, Bertie offered this:

All I can say on that is they didn’t, and never did they ask me. They were not people that ever tried to get me to do something. I might have appointed somebody [to a state board] but I appointed them because they were friends, not because of anything they had given me.

It is an admission of cronyism—appointing friends because of personal acquaintance, not considering the filling of State-funded offices on the merit of individual candidates. Des Richardson was appointed to the board of Aer Lingus. Jim Nugent was appointed to the board of the Central Bank. Three others were also elevated.

But Bertie insisted that there was a difference between ‘somebody taking millions, somebody taking hundreds of thousands in exchange for contracts and other matters, and taking what is a relatively small contribution from friends who had a clear understanding they would be paid back.’

He maintained:

I’ve broken no law. I’ve broken no ethical code. I’ve broken no tax law. I’ve always paid my income tax. I paid capital gains tax, but I’ve never had much in my life to pay, and I paid my gift tax . . . I did point out to my friends a number of times that it was better that I clear these, and you know, they would sometimes laugh it off . . .

Nobody’s laughing now.

27 September

The first day of the new Dáil session, and the Taoiseach faces Leader’s Questions.

The Opposition knows the Taoiseach has milked public sympathy for all it’s worth. They aren’t going to run down the dead-ends of his marriage breakup, or the whip-around at the time he was in trouble. They daren’t dabble in the human stuff with the most human of politicians.

So they go down the flanks. Enda Kenny effortlessly carves huge holes in the Taoiseach’s rearguard, the ball at his feet, attacking what might be called ‘Manchester Unidentified’.

What’s this? Well, it’s another issue, one that Bertie mentioned in his
TV
interview. It has absolutely nothing to do with his separation, so the Opposition need not court public disdain by addressing it. It’s fair game.

Here’s what Bertie said:

The only other thing, Bryan, totally separate and nothing to do with this, but I don’t want anyone saying I didn’t give the full picture. I did a function in Manchester with a business organisation, nothing to do with politics or whatever. I was talking about the Irish economy; I was explaining about Irish economy matters and I’d say there was about 25 people at that. I spent about four hours with them; dinner; I did question and answers; and all the time from 1977 up to current period I got eight thousand on that, which you know, whether it was a political donation . . .

This was the Taoiseach admitting to receiving £8,000 sterling in cash, in 1994, the year after his marital separation. He was Minister for Finance at the time, and the Green Book that provides guidelines to ministerial conduct at the time warns expressly against accepting anything of value in the course of one’s office.

It’s not good enough that Bertie might have been off-duty, among a few friends, possibly taking in a match at Old Trafford while he was at it. He was the Minister for Finance. He was talking about the Irish economy. They gave him money.

Bertie admitted on television:

I’d actually done the event a number of times, but I only once got a contribution. I’ve gone through them and given my personal accounts [to the Mahon Tribunal], that is the only other payment. It is nothing to do with this, but it was a payment that was in my accounts and I did give that to the tribunal as well.

This is an own-goal by the Taoiseach. The money went into his personal finances. He took it at a speaking engagement, at which the only reason he would be heard would be his standing as Minister for Finance.

Bertie presumably had to put through his own net because he knew the money was showing. The Mahon Tribunal has the detail, and he can’t take the risk of keeping quiet and having it come out later. His television interview was his one-and-only chance to confess all.

Enda Kenny demands an answer on the Manchester payment. Bertie doesn’t give him one, except to mumble incoherently.

Big Pat Rabbitte cuts in from the left, and lets fly. He can’t believe that the Minister for Finance did not have a bank account of his own in the seven years he was Minister for Finance. The shot is true. Here’s the replay of Bertie’s
TV
commentary: ‘I didn’t have an account in my own name during the separation years [1987–93 inclusive]. I opened an account after the separation work was over.’

Now, on the opening day of the Dáil, Bertie confirms that he didn’t have a personal bank account in those years. Rabbitte is pointed: ‘Are you telling the House that during the period you were Minister for Finance, responsible for running the Exchequer, that you had no bank account in the jurisdiction? Did you have a bank account outside the jurisdiction?’

Ouch . . . one can already hear the Sunday papers ringing every Barclays branch and Lloyds-
TSB
in Lancashire. But if he had no account anywhere, what could he have been telling his eager-eared audience in Manchester: ‘My advice, as Minister for Finance, is to have nothing whatever to do with banks . . .’

Mr Ahern is left clawing at the air:

I separated at the beginning of 1987 and it didn’t conclude until the end of 1993 in the High Court. Over that period my accounts were in the joint names of my wife and myself. For obvious reasons, I did not use our joint account. I used cheques separately to deal with my issues and I did not open an account in my own name until afterwards.

The Taoiseach didn’t have a bank account, yet he was able to use cheques—what, from an account in somebody else’s name? This incredible stuff must be doing damage. Remember the Taoiseach said he had accumulated £50,000 in savings from the time he was Lord Mayor (1986) until the separation (concluded in November 1993).

If he had no bank account in that time, where was this money located? Was it thrown into a broom closet in St Luke’s? If in a joint deposit account, how did Bertie ‘use cheques separately’ when he didn’t open an account until afterwards?

Joe Higgins rises to speak. The Dublin West Socialist Party
TD
accuses Bertie of having cast Bryan Dobson in the role of agony aunt in order to divert attention from critical issues. ‘Your personal circumstances are irrelevant, because you said last night that you had already got a bank loan to pay off pressing bills.’

It would have taken the Taoiseach two minutes to draft a letter to send back the money to his fans, says Joe. And he gives the example—‘Ah, Jaysus, lads, you’ll have me in huge trouble if you don’t take back the fifty grand. My circumstances have improved, and I’ll have fifty reporters traipsing after me for the rest of my life if this comes out. Bertie.’

He suggests a
P.S.
—‘Tell Paddy the Plasterer to steer clear of Callely’s house. He’s in enough trouble with the painter already.’

That’s a reference to Ivor Callely getting a free decorating job on his house in Clontarf from the builders John Paul. The firm had been given a lucrative contract with
FÁS
[the state training agency]—and Ivor was in charge of the State manpower agency at the time. The scandal-plagued junior minister resigned, but only after the Taoiseach himself said he was ‘not impressed.’

Paddy the Plasterer, Paul the Painter—and now it seems Bertie’s own particular glasshouse, reduced to a house of shards, could do with Malcolm the Glazer.

Joe’s
P.S.
is not the only one. The internet gags are already flying. There’s a reworked version of Cecelia’s book, with Bertie as the author, saying
PS, I Owe You
. Another of her books is called
Where Rainbows End
. Could this be where a Rainbow begins? [meaning the multi-party Government that included Fine Gael and the Labour Party]

There’s a
P.S.
with the
PD
s.

Michael McDowell now finally breaks his silence—in order to blame Bertie’s friends!

‘The actions of a group of friends . . . in advancing to him monies . . . were ill-advised,’ says the Tánaiste. ‘It is reasonable to accept that the motive for the payments was benevolent and not intended to compromise, to corrupt, or to obtain improper influence or reward.’

He says the Taoiseach ‘should probably have declined such help,’ even in the difficult personal circumstances he faced in 1993. ‘Accepting such help was an honest error of judgement . . .’

McDowell calls for the payments to now be fully refunded with interest. ‘If the donors are reluctant to receive them, they can surrender them to charitable causes,’ he adds, forgetting to warn them that any future charitable causes should not include high office holders in the politics of Ireland.

28 September

The
Irish Times
headlines: ‘Pressure on Ahern eases as Tánaiste lends support.’ It’s premature, because the
Irish Independent
is highlighting the ‘new questions’ on the Manchester supporters, the prawn sandwich brigade who thought Bertie could do with some more bread.

The
Indo
reports that Irish business interests were behind the gathering and that some of Bertie’s friends attended, which makes it different from his addressing a ‘business organisation’ in Britain and raises the ugly prospect of Irish interests shovelling it into Bertie’s back pocket offshore.

The Taoiseach is today in Ballyjamesduff, leading to jokes among reporters present about the two Paddy Reillys named by the Taoiseach. That’s because the Percy French song about Ballyjamesduff plaintively asks in each chorus: ‘Come home, Paddy Reilly, to me.’ To which the answer is presumably ‘No, because I am too busy running my business here in Manchester and I cannot afford the time before a tribunal.’

Asked up in Cavan exactly who was at this Manchester function, Bertie muddies the water hopelessly: ‘A group that was with me from Dublin,’ he says, as well as local businessmen. He goes on to say that he had no official script, that he did not address the gathering in his capacity as Minister for Finance, that he paid his own airfare, and checked out the tax implications. But the damage is done.

There’s war on the Order of Business in the Dáil, with attempts to raise Bertie’s admission that the Manchester money came from the assembled folks, ‘plus the group who were with me from Ireland.’ He does not identify any of his Irish accompaniment. Government Chief Whip Tom Kitt, under pressure from Opposition parties, is forced to concede a special 35-minute debate next Tuesday.

Meanwhile Michael McDowell is reading the transcript of the doorstep in Ballyjamesduff, and frowning heavily. He goes outside to face the technology, and whatever journalists are still scribbling into notebooks these days. ‘Having spoken to the Taoiseach and studied the transcript of his County Cavan comments, there are now very significant matters of concern,’ he says. The Government moves to the brink.

These matters are ‘not completely put at rest by the facts in the public domain.’ He demands to know identities [of those who attended], the nature of the event, and what the money had ultimately been used for. ‘All these issues have to be clarified now.’

The primary concern is in terms of standards. ‘That’s the crucial thing, and whether it can be defended. That’s the issue.’ It is a complete reversal of today’s
Irish Times
lead.

On ‘Prime Time’ they are talking gravely about the possible end of the Ahern era. He just shouldn’t take money at functions he attends while Minister for Finance. Brian Lenihan, Minister for Children, says doing so would be ‘unthinkable’.

Brian was long passed over for promotion by Bertie, in a row that goes back to 1990 when Bertie was the messenger for Haughey in the shafting of Lenihan Senior during the Presidential election.

29 September

The
Daily Mail
has Bertie ‘hanging by a thread.’ It suggests that Bertie might have used Celia Larkin’s bank accounts during the years he had none of his own. ‘So where is Cowen?’ asks another headline.

Brian Cowen can’t afford to appear like some kind of Gordon Brown figure, smouldering with ambition while Bertie threatens to combust. So he goes on ‘Morning Ireland’ and gives an energetic performance, insisting that the Taoiseach did ‘nothing incorrect’. An interesting focus on the letter of the law, backing up Fianna Fáil clucking that the Green Book of advice for Ministers amounted only to ‘guidelines’ with no force of law.

Geraldine Kennedy, Editor of the
Irish Times
, is summoned before the Mahon Tribunal with Colm Keena, the journalist who wrote the original story. Geraldine, a former
PD TD
, tells the Chairman cheerfully that she destroyed the leaked documents to protect her source.

BOOK: Bertie Ahern: The Man Who Blew the Boom: Power & Money
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