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Friday 22 August 2014

Murder at the tribunal as Bertie's sums don't add up

In Bertie vs Mahon, it's hard to tell who will emerge victorious, writes John Drennan

Published 16/09/2007 | 00:00

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It is somewhat ironic that on the same day that Bertie experienced the political equivalent of 'Murder at the Tribunal Cathedral' the news broke of OJ Simpson's arrest.

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It was of course Simpson's trial which spawned the famous legal phrase 'that if the glove doesn't fit you must acquit'. Bertie Ahern's great problem is that if the glove of his evidence doesn't fit, will FF, the Greens and his beloved public have to convict?

The neglected dusty old Mahon Tribunal is witnessing the most visceral power play we have seen since the Arms Trial.

There is no middle ground in Bertie versus Mahon.

Instead we are in a winner takes it all scenario where, like one of those great Ali/ Frazier heavyweight fights, only one man will walk out of the ring.

The Taoiseach might adopt the public persona of a Parnell who is being traduced by a hoarse mob of avaricious lawyers. However, there is also the real possibility he may yet suffer a similar fate to that of Piggott, the infamous fraudster who tried to destroy Parnell.

But there are also clear implications for the tribunal if they do not finish off a Taoiseach who has been seriously wounded by last week's events. The end might not come immediately.

However, if they do not 'get' Bertie surely it will soon be time for Justice Mahon and his retinue to fold up their tents and go. For if they cannot secure the head of a Taoiseach what else of use is there for this collective of barristers and its discredited witness list.

Last week, as is always the case with such classic contests, the two contenders were well matched.

Bertie Ahern might be the most cunning dissimulator in world politics. However, the Tribunal SC Des O'Neill is like the python that is hardly noticed as it drapes itself sinuously around its victim until the final deadly strike arrives.

On this occasion O'Neill is handicapped by the fact that, when it came to the great contest, the cards are marked.

With Bertie they always are. The Tribunal must land a knockout blow.

Conventional wisdom, however, suggested that if Mr Ahern was still standing by the end of the 15th round the Taoiseach would prevail.

Like any great drama, stage-craft played a critical, if hidden, role.

Ten years ago at McCracken, the final iconography of Charlie Haughey was set in stone when he was booed by a scattered group of incandescent Socialists.

In contrast, Bertie was greeted by waves of applause from the sort of spontaneous gathering of the proletariat we normally associate with Stalin. Perhaps it was a happy accident but Bertie doesn't do 'coincidences'.

On Thursday, Bertie Ahern struck first courtesy of another variation of his much favoured 'all I have is my honour and my small house' defence.

Though Ahern's 'moral certainty' about his personal probity dominated the news agenda, it was O'Neill who landed the more hurtful punches. The Taoiseach may be one of the finest practitioners of the politics of hiding in full view but in the Planning and Payments Tribunal there is no where left to hide.

The risible nature of Ahern's testimony was epitomised by the claim that because "I lodged the money meant I wasn't trying to hide anything".

It could just as easily be said that the reason he lodged the money was because he wasn't expecting to be caught.

Still, in spite of all the probing, Ahern was still hanging around that familiar old corridor of uncertainty. However, by late afternoon the mood had started to change rapidly.

As Des O'Neill began to probe into the minutiae of the goodwill loan of £16,500 and the payment of stg£8,000 Bertie received from his €50m owning friends, Dublin Castle began to acquire the febrile air of a Medici court the day before a planned poisoning.

Bertie can duck and he can weave about how "I did it my way" but it was abundantly clear the Taoiseach's "sums didn't add up". So far, while the tribunal can wound, it hasn't secured enough ammunition for a decisive strike.

For some reason as Ahern's voice turned croaky and the crowds outside swapped cheers for boos, those infamous lines from Othello about "doing the state some service" came to mind.

Of course Bertie Ahern is no Haughey. However, are the gathering clouds of history about to reveal a tragic flaw that might see him experience a similar fate.

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