Wednesday 22 January 2020

Bertie Ahern: 'I'm quitting FF and challenging Mahon'

Bertie Ahern pictured yesterday in Clontarf. Photo: David Conachy
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, is to resign as a member of Fianna Fail, the political party he led for 14 years, but he has given his strongest indication yet that he intends to challenge the findings of the Mahon tribunal, which he has found to be "frustrating" and "incredulous".

In an article published in the Sunday Independent today, Mr Ahern recalls how he had been the "victim" of a "serious breach of constitutional justice" at the tribunal before and says: "The tribunal is not a court of law. And it is not infallible."

Describing the past week as "extremely difficult and emotional" for him, he says he was "hurt and disappointed" by the findings of the Mahon tribunal. He believes a "grave injustice" has been done to him, but he says: "I bear the members of the tribunal no ill-will."

He adds, however: "Their findings in relation to me are not correct. They are plain and simply wrong.

"I have to be true to myself. It would be far easier for me to say nothing and try to forget about this nightmare. But I can't allow this blemish on my character to go unanswered. What has been said about me is erroneous, unwarranted and unjust."

His decision to resign from Fianna Fail, after more than 40 years as a member, is a "political decision", he says, and should not be interpreted as an admission of wrong-doing.

Mr Ahern's decision to resign will come as a relief to Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, who had called a meeting of the party's national executive for this Friday to propose the expulsion of the former leader for "conduct unbecoming".

Also in the Sunday Independent today, Mr Ahern's former partner Celia Larkin writes: "I am desolate that the evidence of the man I once shared my life with has not been accepted by the tribunal.

"It is a sad way to finally close the door on a relationship that ended almost 10 years ago," she says.

But she also takes "some solace" for the fact that the tribunal did not find her former partner to be corrupt.

Mr Ahern says he believes the "unorthodox nature" of his financial affairs had allowed the tribunal to cast doubt on the veracity of the evidence he gave.

"I have accepted before that my personal finances were chaotic, I apologise for that especially if it has caused anxiety or confusion for people, as this arose from a busy and personally traumatic period in my life. I was in the process of bringing my marital separation to a conclusion," he says.

At the same time he says he had an "enormous workload and punishing schedules", and adds "Through all of this I was the father of two young children; in a new relationship, and maintaining long-standing friendships."

For her part, Ms Larkin adds: "I have never in all my years thought Bertie Ahern to be corrupt.

"He could be vague, he could be evasive, belligerent and sometimes downright rude, as with his 'that's who I was in bed with last night' comment in 2002, when our relationship began to crumble. But corruption is not something I ever thought him guilty of."

Mr Ahern says that what he finds "most frustrating" is that "even where there is no evidence to the contrary" his evidence has been "summarily rejected" for "no good reason".

He is also "incredulous" that the tribunal has made findings rejecting the evidence of a number of individuals -- including a number of his friends who loaned him money -- whose evidence had supported his own.

"In the case of almost every person who lent me money, their explanations were not challenged at the hearings in any substantial way. I believe this is fundamentally unfair," he says.

Mr Ahern also says the tribunal heard evidence at length and from multiple sources that his earnings were "more than sufficient" to allow for the accumulation of the savings that ultimately were lodged to his accounts.

"A forensic accountant confirmed that this reflected my legitimate accumulated after-tax income.

"Yet they sought to discount this crucial evidence. Why?" he asks.

Mr Ahern says he is "deeply saddened" that there is a motion pending to expel him from Fianna Fail.

"I know that this motion has created debate and discussion and I don't want this to become divisive," he says.

"I have decided the best way that I can now serve Fianna Fail is to tender my resignation as a member of the party... In tendering my resignation, I want people to understand that this is a political decision... My resignation is not an admission of wrong-doing in regard to the report of the Mahon tribunal and nobody should try to interpret it in that way," he says.

Mr Ahern says that he was among a "large group of citizens" who had been victims of a "serious breach of constitutional justice" when it emerged that the tribunal "tried to prevent" the disclosure of a lengthy "catalogue of prior inconsistent statements" made by the witness, Tom Gilmartin, the man who had made "this dirty, vicious allegation" that he had received money from the developer Owen O'Callaghan.

"While this is a matter for the tribunal, I am saddened that there has never been an explanation or even an expression of regret for those breaches and the costs and delays that flowed from the breaches.

"I believe the tribunal's final report should have addressed this matter," he says.

Sunday Independent

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