TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern's close friend Joe Burke is to resume work next week despite still being deemed too ill to be questioned by gardai in a sexual assault investigation.
Mr Burke, the chairman of the Dublin Port Company, is to resume his duties next Thursday after spending time in medical care, his fellow directors have been told.
The secretary of the company, Michael Sheary, made the announcement at the company's monthly board meeting yesterday.
The move comes despite intense speculation that Mr Burke, who was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman on New Year's Day, would stand down from his €20,000-a-year post after several weeks in a clinic.
Gardai are still waiting to formally interview Mr Burke about the allegation, made by a 23-year-old woman he met at a Dublin city centre nightclub.
Detectives are aware that Mr Burke has been seen in public several times in recent weeks, including a dinner he had with a friend at a Ballsbridge restaurant yesterday week.
However, a senior garda last night confirmed that officers were still waiting for the all- clear from Mr Burke's medical team to interview him.
The officer said Mr Burke's recovery was being monitored closely and that inquiries had been made in the past two days regarding his fitness to be questioned.
"As soon as he is deemed medically fit to be questioned, that will happen," the officer said.
So far, detectives have only spoken to Mr Burke informally, on the morning the allegation was made.
Mr Burke, who said at the Mahon Tribunal he made a £3,500 dig-out payment to Mr Ahern in 1994, has vehemently denied the woman's allegations.
The 58-year-old businessman has been receiving medical care since the day after the alleged sexual assault.
Gardai found Mr Burke slumped behind the wheel of his car in the Ringsend area of Dublin after taking a combination of drink and sleeping pills.
He was taken to St Vincent's Hospital for treatment and later booked into a private medical facility. It is the second time in three years that a sexual assault allegation has been made against Mr Burke. He also denied the first allegation. The DPP decided not to proceed with that complaint after examining the evidence.
A spokeswoman at Dublin Port Company declined to comment on the announcement yesterday. The alleged victim claims she was sexually assaulted by Mr Burke when he took her and a friend to a €4m mansion owned by businessman Barry English, at Abington, in Malahide, north Co Dublin, after meeting them in Lillie's Bordello on New Year's Eve.
Neither Mr English, who has testified at the tribunal that he gave Mr Ahern IR£5,000 in cash in 1994, nor any members of his family was present.
The 23-year-old woman made a 999 call at 5.36am alleging a sexual assault. Almost simultaneously Mr Burke also called gardai and asked them to come to the mansion.
He told officers he believed a false complaint was being made against him and that he was innocent of any wrongdoing. Gardai came to the house and spoke to Mr Burke informally. The woman made a statement and was medically examined.
Later that morning, Mr Burke collected his partner, Fianna Fail Senator Maria Corrigan, from her home in Leopardstown and brought her to Dublin Airport where she left for a holiday in the US.
Donegal-born Mr Burke was appointed chairman of the port company by the Government in 2002 and was reappointed again last year.