Taoiseach steps up court bid to 'block' tribunal
Published 01/04/2008 | 00:00
'Fianna Fail has clearly decided that they will ride roughshod over any concerns their coalition colleagues express'
TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern takes his case against the Mahon Tribunal to the High Court today as he faces a potential grilling over his personal finances in the Dail tomorrow.
Mr Ahern will ask three judges to decide that the tribunal has no entitlement to cross-examine him about statements given by him in the Dail, even if similar statements have been made by him outside the house.
He also claims discussions between his lawyers and a banking expert are beyond the reach of the Mahon Tribunal because they are legally privileged.
Meanwhile Fine Gael will today hold a frontbench meeting to decide its line of attack tomorrow, when the Taoiseach returns to the Dail for the first time since former constituency secretary Grainne Carruth agreed that her lodgements on his behalf were linked to sterling conversions.
Mr Ahern had insisted that they were instead the proceeds of his Paymaster General salary cheques.
Separately, the Mahon tribunal has learned of an allegation that some of Mr Ahern's salary cheques may have been cashed at yet another financial institution.
If true, the claim would mean that there were fewer such cheques available to be lodged to the Irish Permanent Building Society account that is currently the subject of contradictory testimony.
A spokesman for the financial institution allegedly involved said yesterday that it had not been contacted by the tribunal.
Yesterday Enterprise, Trade and Employment Minister Micheal Martin joined Agriculture Minister Mary Coughlan in avoiding questions as to whether they believed the Taoiseach's testimony.
Mr Martin said: "It's not for me to assess in terms of what's going on at the tribunal. It's quite complex as you know.
"I'm just back from the United States last week where I was on a jobs mission with both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland so I'm not in a position to make an assessment of the evidence that has been presented in the most recent times."
But Mr Martin said that he had full confidence in the Taoiseach, and praised him for his "outstanding contribution" work on Northern Ireland, social partnership and economic development.
"It would be my personal opinion that the best forum to deal with these issues is within the forum itself," Mr Martin added.
Such was his "strong view," he said, adding that he had not discussed the matter with Mr Ahern.
Last night Fine Gael accused the major Government party of "giving the two fingers" to their coalition partners by not yet offering the clarification sought by Mary Harney and John Gormley.
Frontbencher Brian Hayes said: "Fianna Fail has clearly decided that they will ride roughshod over any concerns their coalition colleagues express," claiming that the monies under investigation amount to "nearly €1m in today's terms".
"When Mary Harney and John Gormley finally found their voices last week it raised the prospect of some movement to end the constant whirl of fairytales emerging from Dublin Castle.
"It now seems there will not be any clarification offered for the glaring contradictions."
He warned: "If Fianna Fail is going to tell their coalition partners to butt out on a matter as serious as the Taoiseach's finances, then they will tell them to butt out on any issue."
Green party councillor Niall O'Brolchain said last night that people were "universally uncomfortable" at the current situation.
But he added: "The primary responsibility is to get the job done. The two Green Ministers are performing enormously well."
But Mr Hayes claimed that Mary Harney's "increasing irrelevance" in Health would soon be repeated for John Gormley and Eamon Ryan, who "will be allowed do only as much as Fianna Fail let them.
"If they are rebuffed on this issue they will end up emasculated for the duration of their time in government."
Mr Ahern's judicial review proceedings will argue that the tribunal has conducted itself in a way that is "biased and unfair."
The case could take three days, with judgment likely to be reserved.
A Labour party spokesman indicated last night that leader Eamon Gilmore would be addressing the "big picture" in his Dail contribution tomorrow.
Mr Gilmore will focus on the "need to end the attention-sapping controversy by securing Mr Ahern's departure "so that the crucial issues facing the country can be addressed".