Sunday 23 October 2016

Obituary: Sean Ardagh

Former teacher and accountant spent 14 years in Dail as TD and was a star of the DIRT inquiry, writes Liam Collins

Published 22/05/2016 | 02:30

Self-effacing: The funeral of former Fianna Fail TD Sean Ardagh at the Church of St Jude the Apostle in Templeogue, Dublin is attended by daughter, Catherine, who was recently elected a senator. Photo:
Self-effacing: The funeral of former Fianna Fail TD Sean Ardagh at the Church of St Jude the Apostle in Templeogue, Dublin is attended by daughter, Catherine, who was recently elected a senator. Photo:
Sean Ardagh

A week before he died, Sean Ardagh was visited in Our Lady's Hospice by Darragh McShea who asked for the hand of his daughter Catherine Ardagh, the newly elected senator, in marriage. The couple held a blessing of the rings ceremony with the former Fianna Fail TD and his wife Maire before he died from cancer last Tuesday at the age of 68.

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Sean Ardagh spent 14 years in Dail Eireann without ever achieving his full potential. This was partly due to his self-effacing manner as he hadn't a bad word to say about anybody, including his political opponents. The closest he came to real influence was as chairman of the Abbeylara Inquiry which was abandoned after the courts ruled it unconstitutional.

Born in Dublin in 1947, Sean Ardagh was educated at Marian College, Sandymount and UCD. He moved to Canada and while working as a teacher qualified as a chartered accountant. He met his wife Maire there in 1971 and they were "as thick as thieves" together in life and in politics until the time of his death.

Returning to Dublin he set up his own accountancy firm and became involved in local politics through his membership of the Fianna Fail party. He was a member of the local authority in Dublin from 1985 until 2003. Along with the senior TD for the constituency, Ben Briscoe, he was elected to the Dail in 1997. Maire Ardagh was also a councillor and mayor of South Dublin in 2003.

As member of the Dail Public Accounts Committee Ardagh's financial knowledge and acumen led to his appointment as a member of the sub-committee which is now regarded as the only successful Oireachtas public inquiry of recent times. The so-called DIRT Inquiry arose from a 1998 Sunday Independent investigation which revealed that there were 60,000 bogus non-resident accounts in Allied Irish Banks. A subsequent investigation by the Controller & Auditor General established that the practice - which allowed account holders living in Ireland to collude with their banks by giving bogus foreign addresses and thereby avoid Deposit Interest Retention Tax (DIRT) - was widespread in all the financial institutions.

Sean Ardagh and his Fianna Fail colleague Sean Doherty, who resurrected his political career, along with the chairman Jim Mitchell and Pat Rabbitte, were the stars of the inquiry.

It was televised live, lasted 26 days and produced its findings promptly at a cost of IR£800,000.

It is estimated that as a result of the story and subsequent investigation, the Revenue Commissioners collected close to €1bn in unpaid taxes and penalties.

The inquiry's success was such that Sean Ardagh, who was chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights, was then selected as chairman of the Oireachtas Abbeylara Inquiry, which was convened in April 2001 to investigate the shooting dead of John Carty by the Garda Emergency Response Unit during a siege at his mother's home near the Co Longford village .

On its first day, the former attorney general and senior counsel John Rodgers, representing 36 lower ranking Gardai objected vehemently to the proceedings, telling Sean Ardagh: "If this were a court of law or a tribunal, the first thing the court would do is establish the facts."

He was told it was not a court of law, but after four days of hearings it ended up there, first in the High Court which ruled that the inquiry was unconstitutional and later the Supreme Court, which declared that the Oireachtas had no legal authority to mount such an investigation. At attempt to rectify this was defeated in the 2011 referendum and the episode certainly marred Sean Ardagh's political career.

In his personal life he was a keen baker and his family told the story after his funeral that when the boys were young he decided to build them a wooden boat to teach them sailing. He commandeered the playroom and spent the next four years on the project - the wall had to be knocked down to get the boat out. But they eventually learned to sail.

Sean Ardagh, who had retained his seat in Dublin South-Central constituency, was diagnosed with cancer in 2002. He suffered a recurrence of the illness in 2010 and resigned as a TD on January 28, 2011, ahead of the impending general election. He was involved in his daughter Catherine's political career and although she was unsuccessful in the General Election, he lived to see her elected to the Seanad some weeks ago.

The Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern were among the large attendance from the worlds of politics, business and the media at his funeral in Dublin last Thursday. He is survived by his wife Maire, his sons Rory and Charlie and his daughter Catherine.

Sunday Independent

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