Authors: Colm Keena
Tags: #Biographies & Memoirs, #Historical, #Europe, #Leaders & Notable People, #Political, #Presidents & Heads of State, #History, #Military, #Politics & Social Sciences, #Politics & Government, #Elections & Political Process, #Leadership, #Ireland, #-
O’Connor’s comments in the private interview prompted the tribunal to write to eleven other stockbroking firms asking them if they had received requests in or around December 1993 for donations for Ahern. All replied that they had not, or that, if they had, they could not recall being asked. However, Davy Stockbrokers told the tribunal that it had made a political donation to Ahern in November 1992. In time, a copy of the Davy cheque was retrieved from bank archives and forwarded to the tribunal. It was made out to Bertie Ahern and had been lodged on 28 January 1993. The details as to where it had been lodged were recorded on the back of the cheque and showed an account number in the Irish Permanent Building Society, Drumcondra. This was not one of the twenty-two accounts declared by Ahern when he had sworn his affidavit of discovery in February 2005, listing accounts into which money to be used for his benefit had been lodged.
The tribunal wrote to Ahern about the Davy payment and the account in the Irish Permanent on 30 November 2007, when he was already preparing for his next appearance at the tribunal to deal with the dig-out lodgements and other aspects of his personal finances. Everything indicates that he immediately realised that the inquiries were going in a direction that held great danger for his political survival.
In its letter of 30 November the tribunal asked for Ahern’s knowledge of the Davy payment and the circumstances surrounding its lodgement to the identified account in the Irish Permanent as well as for any related documents in his possession. When he appeared before the tribunal on 21 and 22 December he had not yet responded to the letter. The subject was not raised during his evidence, and the tribunal broke for the Christmas period.
On 7 January 2008 Ahern’s solicitors wrote to the tribunal. They said the Davy cheque had been sent to St Luke’s and was
handled in that office by the finance election committee as a political donation for the benefit of Fianna Fáil Dublin Central. The cheque was allocated to the building trust for the purpose for which that account was established. It was a fund for use in connection with St Luke’s which is held for the benefit of Dublin Central Fianna Fáil.
The tribunal was told that a constituency committee called the house committee was in charge of the account into which the money was lodged.
On 14 January the tribunal wrote to Ahern with a lengthy list of questions and proposals for orders of discovery (ascertaining what documents existed or had existed that might be relevant and ordering their production). It asked him to identify the members of the house committee for the period concerned, to provide minutes of all decisions made by it, to produce documents relating to the account into which the Davy cheque was lodged, and to identify the members of the finance committee at the time of the 1992 general election.
Ahern was also asked to provide the records of receipts for the 1992 election campaign that would show the Davy cheque being received. The tribunal had by this time seen a copy of a statement on the account, and the £5,000 Davy cheque had been lodged with a second cheque of a similar amount, making for a £10,000 lodgement. Ahern was asked the identity of the donor of the second cheque. He was also asked about a number of other transactions on the account, including a withdrawal of £30,000 from the account on 30 March 1993, by way of a cheque to a Patrick O’Sullivan, solicitor.
Ahern was also asked about a series of sizeable lodgements from 1989 to 1995 and was told that the tribunal was considering making an order of discovery for documents belonging to the house committee of St Luke’s concerning the receipt of funds between 1 January 1989 and 1 January 1995. The tribunal, by way of the Davy cheque, was travelling deep into the finances of Ahern’s Drumcondra operation in the middle years of his political career.
Ahern’s solicitor at the tribunal was Liam Guidera of Frank Ward and Company, solicitors to Fianna Fáil. The tribunal got its first response to its letter on 5 February, that is, three-and-a-half weeks later. Guidera said that the information and documents that had been requested ‘relate to the activities of Fianna Fáil Dublin Central constituency organisation’ and that the proposed orders of discovery were not properly directed at Ahern and ought to be directed at other persons. The requests, Guidera said, should go to the Fianna Fáil Dublin Central organisation. ‘I understand that the organisation has sought its own legal advice and that the tribunal will be contacted in that regard in due course. However, my client wishes to make it clear that he objects to this line of inquiry.’
Notwithstanding the objections to the request for information, the solicitor said that, at the time of the 1992 general election, the usual practice was that the treasurers of the Dublin Central Comhairle Dáil Ceantair ‘and a number of volunteer members of the Fianna Fáil Dublin Central organisation, including members of the House Committee, would have been involved in raising funds to finance the election campaign.’
The members of the committee dealing with finances for the November 1992 election were Joe Burke, Tim Collins, Paddy Reilly (Paddy the Butcher), deceased, Jimmy Keane, deceased, and Gerry Brennan, deceased. They were also the members of the house committee in the period 1989–95, the tribunal was told.
The letter from Guidera was the first time the tribunal heard that Ahern was adopting the position that he was not the proper person to answer questions about the affairs of his constituency organisation. Asked later by Des O’Neill if there was a divide between him and his constituency organisation that was such that he was incapable of acquiring constituency documents to assist the tribunal, Ahern said:
No, there is no difficulty with me getting assistance. But can I say, Mr O’Neill, what I have been dealing with in this tribunal, with the greatest of respect, has been my wife’s accounts, my children’s accounts, my accounts. I haven’t been dealing with the Fianna Fáil accounts. The Fianna Fáil accounts for Dublin Central constituency are under the direction of the constituency, under the offices of the constituency. Of course I work with them. Of course they would co-operate with me. But they are Fianna Fáil constituency or Fianna Fáil business.
The statement is interesting, since what emerged from the evidence heard by the tribunal was that the Irish Permanent account into which the Davy cheque was lodged was not under the control of the officer board of Ahern’s constituency. Rather, the account was under the sole control of Ahern’s long-time supporter and associate Tim Collins, who wasn’t even a member of Fianna Fáil, let alone an elected constituency officer. Furthermore, the officer board had no control of the account and, as the evidence would in time show, had not known how much was in it until it was told by the tribunal in 2008.
Bertie Ahern appeared before the tribunal on 21 and 22 February 2008. On 1 February, Ahern’s solicitor wrote to the tribunal asking that the matters concerning the Irish Permanent account be looked at by way of private inquiry before becoming the subject of public evidence. He also said that, ‘as far as our client is concerned, the constituency is properly under the control of the constituency organisation.’ Nevertheless, the hearing went ahead.
O’Neill queried Ahern about O’Connor’s evidence that he had been worried that, in December 1993, Richardson might have approached other rival stockbroking firms. He told him about the tribunal’s decision to write to eleven other stockbroking firms and about the responses it had received. Ahern’s counsel, Conor Maguire, intervened and said he was very concerned that he had not been told of their responses. He should have been, he argued, and he asked that the tribunal rise to allow him to consider the matter. He argued that Ahern should not be asked about the Davy cheque, because he had not been told that the other stockbroking firms were being written to; but the chairperson rejected the application. When Ahern replied that the Davy cheque would have been recorded by the constituency organisation when it had been received, O’Neill asked him if he had those records with him. Ahern said he didn’t. O’Neill asked why not. ‘Because I don’t have constituency records. It’s Fianna Fáil constituency accounts. And I do not have Fianna Fáil constituency accounts, but I know it’s recorded.’ This was the first the public heard of a division that had apparently emerged between Ahern and his famously supportive constituency organisation.
The Irish Permanent account into which the Davy cheque had been lodged was called simply ‘
’. This had not been mentioned publicly until Ahern’s appearance on 21 February, nor had the fact that Tim Collins had opened the account during the 1989 general election campaign. Collins was the sole signatory. When opening the account he had stipulated that the statements on the account be kept in the branch. He also signed a declaration stating that the funds belonged to him personally and that he was not holding them as nominee for any other party. The tribunal had ascertained all these facts by the time of Ahern’s appearance, because it had been able to get certain documents from the Irish Permanent files. Neither Ahern nor his constituency organisation had provided the tribunal with anything at this point.
Ahern, during questioning from the chairperson, Judge Alan Mahon, said that there was a list available of the political donations received in 1992 and that the Davy contribution was on it. He said Davy had donated £5,000; some of it had gone into the 1992 election account and some into ‘the building trust account, that is a call they [the officers of the constituency] make, where the money goes.’ In other words, Ahern was saying that the initials on the Irish Permanent account stood for ‘building trust’ and that the decision about whether a political donation went into the election account or the
account was determined by the officers of the constituency.
When O’Neill asked Ahern for the whereabouts of the documents the tribunal had sought from him on 30 November, he said, ‘In the hands of Fianna Fáil party Dublin Central . . . I am not here answering for Fianna Fáil Dublin Central. Fianna Fáil Dublin Central have their own system. I can co-operate and I can assist.’
When the chairperson said he would have assumed that the committee and the constituency would co-operate with Ahern and provide him with documents (even if, legally, he could not instruct them to do so), he appeared to agree. O’Neill suggested that the documents could be brought to Dublin Castle from St Luke’s during the lunch break and produced at two o’clock. Ahern said it would not be possible, and O’Neill suggested that it be produced by 10 a.m. the next day.
Ahern was asked at one point if he would have a role in the decision to put money received into the ‘election account’ or the ‘building trust account’. He said he would not. ‘That is why we have a democratic organisation and we elect officers, and people work hard to do that.’ O’Neill then asked him if this was a reference to the treasurers of the constituency organisation.
The officers, well, normally. The officers of the Comhairle Dáil Ceantair are the elected officer board. In an election they normally would ask—somebody would take on the responsibility. Now it’s an election agent. Then somebody would take on the responsibility of trying to gather funds and they would be the signatory of the account.
Ahern disclosed that, during the 1992 election, Tim Collins had opened an ‘election account’. O’Neill asked if this was the only election account. Ahern replied, ‘Yeah, well, the Comhairle Dáil Ceantair perhaps could have also a separate election account.’
In time it would emerge that the elected constituency officers had indeed opened an account for the 1992 general election. By the end of the campaign the account run by the officers was in the red, while the account run by Collins had a substantial balance.
Ahern said the accounts for the 1992 election were ‘not necessarily’ run by the treasurers. The election account was run by the finance committee. The secretary of that committee was Collins, and the account was in his name, he said. Ahern could not say if Collins was a member of a particular cumann. In fact Collins was never a member of Fianna Fáil.
Ahern said Collins was elected to the trust that was set up when money was being raised to buy St Luke’s.
The trust was set up by those who donated to the trust. And he was appointed by them to be secretary of the trust. The trust was run by the Cumann O’Donovan Rossa committee, which he was secretary of, and the finance committee at that time was linked to that, and he was secretary. He was effectively secretary of the trust when all the work was being done to set up the trust.
According to the Byrne memorandum, considered in the previous chapter, the persons who established the trust and who contributed the funds to St Luke’s were part of a grouping called the St Luke’s Club. As we have seen, Collins was asked about this term when he appeared before the tribunal, and he gave the impression that he had never heard of such a club.
Ahern was asked about the fact that the account name was simply the initials
. He said the constituency used a lot of initials. By way of example he mentioned
, for Comhairle Dáil Ceantair. O’Neill said he was specifically referring to initials being used for the names of bank accounts. Ahern said there was the
(Cumann O’Donovan Rossa) account, and O’Neill’s reaction showed that this was another account he hadn’t heard of before.
‘You haven’t discovered that to the tribunal,’ he said.
‘Because it’s not my account,’ Ahern replied.
The only accounts he had disclosed that were not personal accounts were accounts into which money was lodged to ‘elect me’, Ahern declared. The other constituency accounts did not hold money for his benefit.
O’Neill made the point that if Collins had died in the early 1990s the money in the
account would have formed part of his personal estate. Ahern said that Collins’s family ‘are not like that.’ He said the officers of the constituency knew over the years that the money in the account was connected to St Luke’s. If it had ended up in Collins’s estate ‘his wife would have been on to one of our officers in five minutes to give it back.’