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Bertie takes the chair at solar power company

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has become chairman of a new Irish renewable energy firm, Scientia Solar, which operates solar energy plants in Puglia in southern Italy.

The company is also active in California in the US and Germany, where it is trying to buy land to build new solar farms. Last year, three of the firm's solar farms, called Capri 2, 3 and 4, were connected to the Italian power grid.

Scientia Solar is run by Ian Lawrie, a co-founder of Liberty Asset Management. Mr Lawrie left the fund management company four years ago having sold it to Friends First. The company did not respond to queries from the Sunday Independent last week.

Property developer Gary Smith, who is behind the Submarine Bar and Ashleaf Shopping Centre in Walkinstown, Dublin, is a backer of the company along with Northern Irish developer Ivor Dougan.

Last November, both men were involved in a lawsuit with embattled developer Bernard McNamara over plans to develop a new shopping centre beside Dublin's Westbury Hotel. Mr Dougan and Mr Smith had sought to bankrupt Mr McNamara over his failure to pay a ¿2.1m judgement registered against him.

Mr McNamara subsequently launched a ¿101m claim against Mr Dougan and Mr Smith alleging breaches of a shareholder agreement relating to the Grafton Street development plan. The claim was also made against well-known financier Pascal Taggart and former Irish Nationwide chairman Terry Cooney. Last November, Mr McNamara settled the action.

Estate agent Brendan Byrne, one of the founders of Ross McParland, is also involved in the solar company. Mr Byrne was one of the beneficiaries when Sherry Fitzgerald bought Ross McParland in 1999 for about ¿5.7m. He stepped down as a director of the property firm last July.

Other investors in the company include Frank Smith, one of the founders of Smiths Buildings Supplies in Walkinstown and a property developer in Dublin. He is described as "a significant investor in land" as well as having interests in "pubs, farming and property investments".

Frank Smith and his brother John developed the ¿40m Ashleaf Shopping Centre at the end of the 1990s and have been involved in the Submarine Bar and the Baggot Inn.

Mr Ahern's appointment as chairman of Scientia Solar was made just before he stood down as vice-chairman of the advisory board of Gerry O'Hare's property development company Parker Green International. He had joined the board in October 2008.

Mr O'Hare is one of Northern Ireland's best-known property developers, owning the Quays Shopping Centre in Newry as well as residential developments in central Europe and a Wal-Mart-anchored shopping centre in Connecticut.

Apart from giving speeches, Mr Ahern is also involved with the British Virgin Islands-registered International Forestry Fund, which is a joint venture between Swiss asset management group Helvetia and the Irish fund IFS Asset Managers. Last year, the group bought a chunk of forestry land near Falkirk, Scotland.

Recently, it emerged that Mr Ahern's pension could be worth as much as ¿7.6m, giving him an annual income of almost €156,000 plus a lump sum of nearly ¿389,000.