Ciaran Byrne in Cape Town and Fionnan Sheahan
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's desperate attempts to shut down the controversy on his tax affairs during his State visit to Africa failed yesterday as he was drawn into angry exchanges with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.
Trading insults from 8,000 miles apart, Mr Ahern said Mr Kenny's claim he had misled people and not paid tax arising from the dig-out payments was a "bare-faced lie".
The Fine Gael leader hit back, saying the Taoiseach's explanation of his finances ranged from "phenomenal coincidence to outrageous fantasy".
"It seems to me as if there is one law for Bertie Ahern and one for the rest of the people," he said.
Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore said it would be "unprecedented" for a Taoiseach to be unable to get a tax clearance certificate.
Mr Kenny also demanded again last night that Mr Ahern produce a tax clearance certificate from the Revenue Commissioners, certifying his tax affairs are in order.
In response, Mr Ahern's spokesman confirmed to the Irish Independent that he will not be able to provide the certificate by the deadline for TDs to supply the document to the State ethics watchdog.
Instead, Mr Ahern will provide an application statement, which is issued when there is an aspect of a taxpayer's affairs still being sorted out to determine if there is a bill.
"Bertie Ahern and his advisers are in correspondence with the Revenue over some matters, which his advisers believe are not tax liable.
"However, in good faith the Taoiseach has lodged a sum of money should the Revenue adjudicate at a later stage that there is a liability.
"In the meantime, like every TD after a general election, Mr Ahern is obliged to produce a tax clearance certificate or application statement before February 9, which he will do," the spokesman said.
Mr Ahern has lodged €70,000 with the Revenue Commissioners to cover any potential tax liability, the Irish Independent revealed last month.
Despite Mr Ahern still dealing with Revenue over whether there was a tax bill to be paid, Mr Kenny was adamant in saying Mr Ahern does owe tax.
"Yes I am because he is unable to produce a tax clearance certificate," he said.
Yet he later added: "What I can say with certainty is that he has been unable to produce a tax clearance certificate, which is required under the law that he himself introduced in sending out a statement to the Irish people that politicians are tax compliant."
A Government spokesman had warned journalists accompanying the Taoiseach on his State visit to southern Africa that Mr Ahern would not respond to questions on domestic issues and his personal finances.
But Mr Ahern did ultimately respond when asked about Mr Kenny's weekend attack on him that he hadn't paid tax arising from the dig-out payments.
"First off as I said last week I will be honouring my commitments. From my point of view these have been answered at home but the charges that I have not paid my tax by Enda Kenny are just wrong and he knows he is telling a bare-faced lie.
"I have honoured my tax compliance and he is just wrong and he knows he is wrong," he said in Cape Town.
The Green Party are holding the regular line adopted on Mr Ahern's personal finances since the party entered government with Fianna Fail.
The spokesman for Environment Minister and party leader John Gormley said the view of the Greens had not changed, despite Mr Ahern's tax affairs now coming to the fore.
"These matters are being dealt with by the tribunal and we must not prejudice the workings of the tribunal," the spokesman said.