Friday 21 October 2016

FF aiming for €2m election war chest with St Luke's sale

Bertie Ahern's former office is just the latest Fianna Fail property to go under the hammer, writes Ronald Quinlan

Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30

St Luke's Drumcondra
St Luke's Drumcondra
POWER BASE: Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern with Miriam Ahern in his constituency office, St Luke’s, in 2010. The Drumcondra house is being sold for €774,000

Fianna Fail has embarked upon a sale of properties around the country to fund its general election campaign and pay down its debt.

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With the disposal of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's constituency base of St Luke's for €774,000 approved by its ard chomhairle last Wednesday night, the party is understood to have made significant progress towards its goal of raising between €1.5m and €2m.

A source familiar with the matter told the Sunday Independent that two properties in Cork had already been sold for in excess of €100,000 each while a third sale in the county is in the process of being completed.

While the sale of another property in Tralee, Co Kerry is also understood to be under consideration, the matter is being complicated by the fact that Fianna Fail is engaged in a dispute with the descendants of the trustees behind it. Further complicating matters is the fact that the premises are in need of extensive repair works which party sources estimate could run to tens of thousands of euro.

Asked if all proceeds from the sale of the party's properties would be going to Fianna Fail headquarters as they had done in the case of St Luke's, the source said: "No. In cases where the property is owned by the cumann or constituency, the money will remain with them for their own operational and election campaign costs."

Fianna Fail's sale of St Luke's for €774,000 is being viewed within the party's headquarters as something of a coup, representing as it does a €179,000 premium on the €595,000 price tag it was given when it was put on the market last March.

There are understood to have been a number of bidders for the property, which was acquired for Mr Ahern by a group of his closest associates in 1988 for £56,000 (€78,000) after he had separated from his wife, Miriam.

While the costs of operating the 1,900 sq ft premises became the subject of some controversy, featuring as they did in the Mahon Tribunal's investigations into the three-time former Taoiseach's personal finances, the high profile of St Luke's came in the first instance from its use as Mr Ahern's power base over two decades.

During that time, the property served as the nerve centre for Ahern's political machine, acting as both the base for his constituency operation and as a location for private meetings between the former Taoiseach and his key lieutenants in Fianna Fail.

The building, which sits directly across from Ahern's favourite pub, Fagan's on the Lower Drumcondra Road, also played host during his 11-year tenure as Taoiseach to an array of international leaders including former US president Bill Clinton and former UK prime minister Tony Blair. The unassuming redbrick house was called into use on a number of occasions for politically-sensitive meetings relating to the Northern Ireland peace process.

Notwithstanding his longstanding association with the property, it is understood Mr Ahern only became aware of its sale shortly before the news was reported in the media.

The former Fianna Fail leader's links to St Luke's came to an effective end with his retirement from political life at the 2011 general election.

When Mr Ahern resigned his membership of Fianna Fail a year later, the party moved quickly to dissolve his Dublin Central organisation and to take control of its assets.

The trustees of St Luke's agreed to sign the ownership of St Luke's over to Fianna Fail headquarters in late 2012.

Mr Ahern has since opened a new office in Drumcondra and remains active in peace negotiation processes around the world.

Sunday Independent

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