Ahern: I won my sterling backing horses
FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern yesterday finally accepted that controversial lodgments made to his accounts were in sterling -- but claimed he won some of the money betting on horses.
Mr Ahern made the startling revelation as he returned to give evidence to the planning tribunal for the first time since he stood down as Taoiseach last month.
He had previously maintained that monies lodged into building society accounts on his behalf were in Irish pounds.
But yesterday Mr Ahern was forced into a dramatic U-turn after it emerged he received bank documents last March which showed the transactions were in sterling.
During heated exchanges between Mr Ahern and his tribunal nemesis, inquiry counsel Des O'Neill, the former Taoiseach was quizzed about six lodgments made to the Irish Permanent Building Society in 1994 totalling stg£15,500.
Mr Ahern previously told the tribunal the money came from salary and expenses cheques. But yesterday he said the sterling was made up of income and some big wins on horse races.
"As is well-known publicly I am interested in horse racing and over the years I have placed bets on horse races," Mr Ahern said. "Over the years I have won various sums of money. Some of these would have been paid in sterling."
Mr Ahern also admitted to a new stg£8,000 lodgment to his daughters' accounts which he also claimed came from "winnings" at the races.
And he said he simply "forgot" about sterling lodgments of up to stg£13,000 which he now says he bought from his friend, Manchester businessman Tom Gilroe, who died four years ago.
Mr Ahern now accepts the fresh disclosures mean that he had IR£80,000 in savings at the time he accepted a IR£22,500 'dig-out' loan from eight friends in December 1993 to help pay off a IR£19,000 legal bill following his marital breakdown.
It also emerged yesterday that Mr Ahern was made aware of the proof of the sterling lodgments made in his name before his former constituency secretary Grainne Carruth broke down while giving evidence last March. Ms Carruth broke down after she accepted that lodgments she made on behalf of Mr Ahern were in sterling.
The public reaction to her breakdown is believed to be a key factor in Mr Ahern's decision to step down as Taoiseach.
Mr Ahern last month described the tribunal's treatment of Ms Carruth as "deeply unfair" and "totally unnecessary" in a televised interview broadcast during his visit to the White House. He said he could explain "these sterling lodgments if they [the tribunal] had bothered to ask me".
But yesterday Mr Ahern admitted he knew through tribunal documentation that these lodgments were in fact sterling as far back as March, more than a week before his former secretary gave her evidence.
In angry exchanges, Mr Ahern refused to accept his televised statement was "totally untrue". He accused the tribunal of trying to "hang" Ms Carruth and said he was willing to fight Mr O'Neill "tooth and nail" inside or outside the tribunal.