Ahern refuses to answer any questions over tax controversy
Opposition outcry as Taoiseach kicks off South Africa mission
Embattled Taoiseach Bertie Ahern kicked off a visit to Africa by bluntly refusing to answer questions about the deepening controversy over his personal finances.
Mr Ahern arrived in Cape Town last night ahead of the Government's five-day trade mission, and refused to respond to further opposition party calls for his resignation.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore yesterday repeated calls for Mr Ahern to resign. He also predicted the Taoiseach's own backbenchers would "shaft" him.
It followed a scathing attack by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who publicly called on Tanaiste Brian Cowen to oust Mr Ahern.
However, shortly after landing in South Africa, a government spokesman told journalists Mr Ahern would not be answering any questions about his personal finances while in Africa.
Mr Gilmore joined the offensive over the weekend, saying the Taoiseach was now providing at least four different versions of his personal finances and was unable to get a tax clearance certificate. "At some stage I believe that Mr Ahern's own colleagues will wield the knife when they conclude his situation is putting their own political situation at risk," he added.
Mr Gilmore upped the ante by claiming that Mr Ahern would be shafted, "just like Fianna Fail shafted Albert Reynolds and Charles Haughey and Jack Lynch".
His comments came after Mr Kenny launched attack on Mr Ahern, accusing him of misleading the Dail about his tax affairs and predicting that he would "go down in flames".
Mr Kenny also attempted to goad Finance Minister Brian Cowen into taking action, saying that he was being used as an accomplice in a "great deception on the Irish people".
Mr Cowen made his position clear, saying he would take "no lectures" from Mr Kenny about what he should do.
Both Mr Kenny and Mr Gilmore also attacked Mr Ahern's coalition partners, the Greens, for their "no comment" policy on his evidence at the Mahon Tribunal.
But the Green Party launched a broadside at both leaders, saying the tribunals should be allowed to continue their work without hindrance.
Despite the calls for a Fianna Fail rebellion, so far not a single FF TD has publicly criticised Mr Ahern about his personal finances, or his inability to get a certificate of tax compliance before next month's deadline.
Meanwhile, Mr Ahern will today visit the Niall Mellon Township Trust as part of a five-day visit to South Africa and Tanzania to see Irish aid projects in action.
The Taoiseach's visit will also focus on trade and he will be joined at events by representatives of 50 Irish firms, as well as senior executives from Bord Bia, Enterprise Ireland, Tourism Ireland and the IDA.
Part of Ireland's drive for new business will be centred on South Africa's hosting of the 2010 World Cup.
Mr Ahern is also expected to promote the sale of Irish beef, just months after the South African government agreed to allow imports from Ireland.
Mr Ahern is expected to raise the economic crisis in Zimbabwe in a meeting with President Thabo Mbeki on Tuesday. However, a government spokesman said Mr Ahern will be underlining EU demands for policy changes, rather than discussing Mr Mugabe's position as leader.