Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, has announced that he is to step down as leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach on Tuesday 6th May 2008 when he returns from Washington, where he will address the joint houses of congress.

Now the process of rehabilitating Ahern’s reputation will begin in earnest.  As I write Eamonn Ryan is saying on RTE 1 television that he does not believe that Bertie ever took a corrupt payment.  This can only conclude with roads all over north Dublin being closed for the dozens of people who will turn out for his state funeral in twenty or thirty years time a la Haughey.

Eoghan Harris is now on RTE comparing the hounding of Ahern to the treatment of Charles Stewart Parnell.  God help us.

Update – According to Michael Kennedy Bertie Ahern is responsible for the creation 4 million jobs in Ireland. When he came to office we had 2 million unemployed, now we have two million jobs, according to Mr. Kennedy.  Get your face on the telly and say something.  Say anything. Just be seen to be first out of the blocks to support the great leader.

What can you buy with eighty grand these days?  A decent 4×4, maybe.  Time was that you could buy a half decent house.  In 1993 eighty grand would buy two half decent houses on the North Circular Road!

I was thinking tonight about the Dunnes Stores t-shirt.  The one with the logo on the front – ‘I spent £2,000,000 and all I got was this lousy Taoiseach!’

Or, my own personal favourite, when one of the Baileys was boasting at the tribunal how he once paid £120,000 for a ram (male sheep variety, not hydraulic), and a wag in the audience was heard to comment, ‘Jaysus, he only paid thirty grand for Ray Burke!’

 So, eighty grand.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find out the exact remuneration for a glorious senator in our upper house.  (Okay, so I didn’t try that hard.)  It is I believe somewhere in the region of eighty grand a year.

Nice work if you can get it.

 It is remarkable, in a country which prides itself on its democracy, that it is in the gift of the country’s leader to bestow upon 11 individuals, positions in an essentially powerless legislative house along with all of the status and privilege that goes with it, plus a wage of eighty grand.  That’s over €1500 a week.

Nice work if you can get it.

So how do you decide who wins the coveted prize in An Taoiseach’s little Seanad lottery?  Well, it’s not exactly rocket science.  You need some help forming a government, so two each to the Greens and the PDs.  Then six Fianna Fáil lackeys makes ten.  There sits Bertie, one last eighty grand chip twirling between his grubby little fingers.  He allows himself a quiet smile, knowing that he has an ace up his sleeve that nobody suspects.  He tosses the eighty grand sop to his new best friend, Eoghan Harris.

I’ve just watched Harris, Eamonn Dunphy and John Waters debating Bertie on the Late Late Show.  I know that Harris is not a fool.  The man possesses a sharpe intellect and, having been at the heart of Irish political and historical debate for a couple of decades, he has an appreciation of where the land lies.

But how can we explain his blind, unflinching loyalty to Bertie Ahern?  Harris is a recent convert to the Fianna Fáil fold, so it’s not the blind loyalty to ‘the party’ that you see in other, more seasoned soldiers of destiny.  Many FF adherents are only in it for personal gain.  Fianna Fáil is the natural party of government and so is the most likely choice for those who believe in power for power’s sake.  The trappings of power are a powerful drug and a career of mouthing platitudes,which you no more believe in than you believe in the man in the moon, is a small price to pay for the power and the privilege and the wealth that goes with high political office.

Where does this leave Harris, then?

The day after his anointment he told me that he had considered turning it down.  I didn’t believe him then and I wouldn’t believe him now.  He said he asked for some time to think about it and was told that the Taoiseach wanted to announce it that day, (Friday, 3rd August, 2007), so he accepted.

Harris is no fool.  However, he and many others in Bertie’s camp seem to want to take the rest of us for fools.  Mary Coughlan, speaking on ‘The Week in Politics’, passed up five opportunities to say that she believed the evidence that Bertie has given to the Mahon Tribunal.  She then expects us to believe that she has full confidence in him.  One after the other they have lined up, senior and junior minister alike, to express full confidence in their leader without actually saying straight out that they believe him.

Harris told us on Friday night that Bertie was telling ‘the truth as he sees it.’ That one got a laugh from the audience.  It got a bellyful of laughs from me.  Pressed by an on form Dunphy on the meaning of ‘the truth as he sees it’, Harris goes on to explain that it simply means that Bertie does not believe that he has done anything wrong.

Perhaps the good senator could enlighten me further.  If Bertie does not believe that he has done anything wrong, if he genuinely believes that he has nothing to hide, why is he trotting off to the High Court tomorrow to launch a challenge to the Mahon Tribunal which could only be designed to frustrate and delay the work of the tribunal?  Why has the tribunal had to spend nearly three years dragging information out of him, like a dentist, kneeling on his patient’s chest, pulling at a reluctant eye tooth?

Dunphy tells us that the £138,000 that Ahern lodged to his bank account in 1994 was more than twice his salary.  I’m open to correction, but I believe that £138,000 was more than four times his salary.  Harris goes on to mention the hundreds of thousands he earned during the years in question, as if this easily explains it all.  Did he not eat for seven years or what?  Did he not support an estranged wife and two daughters?  Nothing that the Paymaster General could produce in terms of payslips and documentation could explain the vast sums of cash passing through Bertie’s hands during this time.

Gene Kerrigan’s recent article puts forward a strong case that Ahern has perjured himself at the tribunal.  Vincent Browne recently put forward strong argument that Ahern had perjured himself either at the tribunal or during the legal proceedings associated with his marriage seperation.

All of this, it seems, is of no consequence when it comes to judging the calibre of our elected leader.

While Senator Harris looks on adoringly my own head will hang in shame as this man represents my nation on Capitol Hill.

Bertie Ahern is not fit for the office of Taoiseach.  He is not fit even for the office of leader of Fianna Fáil, and recently the bar in that department has not been set too high.  How long more must this farce go on?  John Waters thinks he will be gone within weeks while Harris believes he will lead Fianna Fáil and the country for as long as he wants to.  Let us hope that it is the former.

Many commentators have this week spoken of how Bertie Ahern’s former secretary, Grainne Carruth, has been hung out to dry at the Mahon Tribunal. How a lowly, low paid minion has been abandoned before the howling, snarling hound that is Tribunal counsel.

However, if we look at the evidence she has given this week a different story becomes clear. A story of someone still mired in the Drumcondra Mafia, someone who, perhaps out of a misplaced sense of loyalty, is prepared to take the most extraordinary risks to remain loyal to her former boss. This is not Frank Dunlop cracking under Mr. Justice Flood’s steely glare and coming in next day singing like a canary.

On Wednesday Ms. Carruth told the tribunal that she had never handled Sterling when making lodgements to Ahern’s accounts at the Permanent TSB branch in Drumcondra. She also said that she only ever handled two passbooks when making these lodgements, those passbooks being for accounts in the names of Ahern’s two daughters.

On Thursday, having been presented with contradictory evidence by Tribunal counsel, Ms. Carruth then accepted that ‘on the balance of probability’ that she had indeed handled Sterling cash for Mr. Ahern and that she had indeed lodged money on his behalf to three PTSB accounts. Now, having been presented with this incontrovertible evidence, Ms. Carruth still refuses to admit to the obvious truth of how things actually happened. She simply says that because it is there in black and white that she must then accept it. This is far from being the same as giving straight, honest evidence under oath.

Grainne Carruth consulted with one of Bertie Ahern’s legal representatives in St. Luke’s before giving initial evidence to the tribunal in private. This smacks of a previous Team Ahern tactic of asking the AIB what they had told the tribunal before Bertie was to give evidence

Also this morning I hear one of Bertie’s champions whining that ‘…it’s only about money, nobody has died here, it’s not China we’re dealing with…’ Well if the whiter than white knights in Fianna Fáil don’t mind I’ll set my standards a little higher than those of China, thank you very much.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A question.When is forty five grand not forty five grand?

When your Bertie Ahearn, of course. Bertie’s life is an amazing stream of coincidence, good fortune and just downright bizzare happenstance. If Freddie Forsyth were to write Bertie into a novel the critics would say that he was stretching credulity much too far.

If you think I’m being hard on poor old Bertie (just an ordinary working class guy who can’t beleive how lucky he is to find himself leader of this great nation), then let me make a list.

1. Bertie is an accountant, apparently. When the newspapers went digging a few years ago no trace of Bertie could be found at the London college he claims to have attended. Someone suggsted he had been to night school!

2. Bertie spent years signing blank cheques drawn on the Fianna Fáil leaders account when Charles Haughey was head of the party and the country. Surely as an accountant, with qualifications from a London college no less, Bertie would know that this practice was highly unorhodox and certainly ethically questionable in terms of accountancy practice. But Bertie saw nothing wrong with this. He just did as he was told by the then party leader.

3. During the late 1980s and early 1990s Bertie had no bank account! Are we expected to beleive this? He was a government minister. He was in one of the best paid jobs in the country, and we are asked to beleive that every payday he took a cheque down to his local pub, tossed it accross the bar and recieved cash for it. Pound notes!

4. During this time, he tells us, he had a large sum of cash in a safe in Drumcondra, something in the region of fifty grand. Let me put noughts on that – £50,000. That’s almost twice the average earnings of a Garda in 1994 and we are asked to beleive that he ‘saved’ all of this in about 18 months.

5. In 1994 a Manchester based business man, Michael Wall, handed Bertie Stg£30,000 in cash at St. Luke’s, Bertie’s office in Drumcondra. This money was for renovations to a three year old house just up the road from St. Luke’s which Mr. Wall was intending to buy. Bertie was, it seems, intending to rent this house from Mr. Wall after he had made good on his intention to buy the house and when all of these good intentions were done and dusted Mr. Wall was going to spend £50,000 doing the place up for Bertie to move into. Not only that but Bertie was going to spend £30,000 of his own money on more renovations to a house that he was only renting. All of these plans, it seems, were hatched before Michael Wall had even bought the house!

6. Bertie’s then patrtner, Ms. Celia Larkin, took the Stg£30,000 to the AIB on O’Connell St. in Dublin and lodged it to a bank account in her name. Why not an account in Bertie’s name? He says he had no bank account at the time but, if you are the minister for finance and you walk into a bank with vast sums of foreign currency in your hip pocket, well they are hardly going to refuse to do business with you.

7. Why would a government minister who was dealing in unusually large amounts of cash not have a bank account?

8. Bertie was going through a seperation from his wife at this time.

9. The day that Celia Larkin alledgedly lodged Stg£30,000 to the account in O’Connell St. only £19,000 in foreign currency was received at that branch. However the £28,000 and change that she lodged to the bank on that day is equal to exactly $45,000. This of course is just a coincidence as Bertie has assured us that he never, ever had any dealings in dollars. So that’s ok then.

When you think about it, it does stretch credulity just a bit.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

So, Bertie has questions to answer.Among the blizzard of questions about Bertie’s finances this last week there was one startling omission.

Yes, we all want to know if the purchase of his house in Drumcondra was ‘an arms length, bone fide transaction for full market value’.
Yes, we all want to know how he managed to ‘save’ £28,000 in just eight or nine months of 1994. A year during which his salary was about £52,000, out of which he had to pay income tax, a mortgage on a house in Malahide, maintenance to his wife, child support for his kids and he had to eat and provide a roof over his own head.
Yes, we all want to know, also, why he would keep £50,000 in a safe in his office. It certainly wasn’t ‘run away money’ – I mean why would he run away after the separation. (I know, I know, we’re not supposed to be getting into his private life!)

Yes, we all want an explanation for the startling coincidence of the lodgements to Celia’s bank account which don’t match up to Stg£30,000 but do make up exactly $45,000 at that day’s exchange rate.

However, the question I would like an answer to is this.

In what sane, democratic, developed nation is it deemed ok for the serving minister for finance to be in the same room as a business man and a briefcase containing Stg£30,000 in cash? (I said sane, Mr. Mugabe.)

Here’s another question.

In what sane, democratic, developed nation could said minister expect to be exonerated by simply claiming that the money wasn’t for him. It was, apparently, for his girlfriend! So that’s all right then.

I don’t do business at the scale of thirty grand transactions, but this last week I have spoken to some people who do. Neither they nor I do business by carrying around briefcases stuffed with cash. Regular business transactions involve bank drafts, cheques, inter bank transfers and other normal, traceable methods of transferring money.

The essence of our democracy should be that those charged with dispensing the democratic will of the people should be like Caesars wife. That is they should not only be above suspicion but should be seen to be above suspicion. If a serving govrnment minister is hanging around with business men and large sums of cash, well let’s just say that the optics are not great.

However, in a country where an admitted tax cheat can top the poll in a general election. Where a minister can waste €50,000,000 on electronic voting machines that will never be used, and still get reelected. Where a Prime Minister can openly live the life of a multi millionaire (private island, racehorses, huge mansion stuffed with art works etc.), all on a salary which wouldn’t support even the house he lived in, without serious questions being asked, it is just possible that Bertie can flash that famous cheesy grin of his, revert back to the poor northside boy who done good persona, grumble about how it’s really not fair and is distracting him from the running of the country, and he might just get away with it.

So if you’re thinking of voting Fianna Fáil on May 24th let me ask you one more time.

Should a serving minister be hanging around business men with briefcases full of cash – even if the cash was for his girlfriend?