OPPOSITION leader Enda Kenny tore into Bertie Ahern over the Mahon Tribunal for the first time last night, directly accusing him of having diminished the office of Taoiseach.
In the most vitriolic political attack since the Bertiegate controversy broke a year ago, Mr Kenny threw off his kid gloves to lambast the "rambling, incoherent" answers offered by Mr Ahern to the tribunal. And Mr Kenny had derision for the cabinet and its FF and Green ministers too, accusing them of lacking backbone.
"Nobody has the courage to stand up and say that what was done here was wrong," the Fine Gael leader declared.
"I've always said that the acceptance of money for personal use by people in politics is wrong," Mr Kenny declared in a TV3 interview. "Really, I feel the office of Taoiseach has been diminished by all of this. I feel that the entire cabinet have accepted that message, and that standard, and that nobody has the courage to stand up."
Mr Kenny said there was now a situation whereby a witness before a tribunal, testifying on oath, "is continually changing his story".
"It does create a credibility problem and that's the issue the Taoiseach has got to deal with when he goes back in before the tribunal. And the fact that no minister in his cabinet is prepared to say that what was done was wrong I find quite extraordinary."
"Bertie Ahern had said that for Charles Haughey to accept money was wrong, for former minister Ivor Callely to have his house painted was wrong, but for himself to have accepted money for personal use was not improper," Mr Kenny noted.
He accused the Taoiseach of having adopted the motto of Louis the Sun King: "L'Etat c'est moi" (I am the State).
Mr Kenny's choice of words and imagery is certain to ratchet up the political temperature as the Dail resumes this week.
The Taoiseach had given "rambling, incoherent answers," which obviously added to the overall cost of the tribunal, he said. Mr Ahern now had "the opportunity to go and clear this up," Mr Kenny said, adding: "The truth is always simple."
But Fianna Fail Minister for State Pat Carey condemned "a rush to judgement" when the Taoiseach had not even completed his evidence. Mr Ahern's testimony was "a work in progress", he told RTE.
Labour party TD Tommy Broughan said: "Most of us would remember if sums of money, the size of our wages, were passing back and forth."
The heightening of political tensions comes as a new opinion poll shows that party support levels are largely unchanged since the election. But the Red C poll, for the Sunday Business Post, says fewer than one in three accepts the Taoiseach's version of events.