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Monday 18 December 2017

Bertie deceived me on finances, says McDowell

PDs urged Taoiseach to 'consider his position'

ANDREA BYRNE

Former Tanaiste Michael McDowell has said that former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern "deceived" him over the crisis over his personal finances in the run up to the 2007 General Election.

"I believed that Bertie Ahern had probably deceived me but I was in a position that I had to ask him a series of questions, get a series of answers which I was almost certain he would give me and be stuck with that situation and finish the election out on that basis . . . which was very, very unsatisfactory," he reveals in an RTE documentary, Progressive Democrats, From Boom to Bust.

The former Minister for Justice encouraged Bertie Ahern to "consider his position" as Taoiseach when more damaging information was leaked from the Mahon Tribunal in May 2007.

The Taoiseach's reaction, was McDowell claims, "typical Bertie . . . He just listened and didn't react".

McDowell admits that he had "huge misgivings" about Ahern's insistence that all was above board. Asked if he is suggesting that Bertie Ahern would have said anything to save his Government, the former Progressive Democrat leader says: "Well, I don't think he was going to be more candid with me than he was with the Mahon Tribunal. If I had the information they had and I had been told that the money could have been won on a horse . . . I think we would all have been out of Government very rapidly, but we didn't know that was going to be his explanation."

The documentary, which airs tomorrow, also reveals the extent to which high-profile Progressive Democrat politicians did not want Michael McDowell as the party's leader and went as far as to "plead" with Mary Harney to remain in the position.

"Michael wanted to be leader after 2002", Harney explains, "I had intended, in fact, standing down from the leadership after the local elections in 2004. However, people like Des O'Malley, Liz O'Donnell, John Dardis . . . succeeded in pleading with me for over two years not to stand down. In particular, they felt that if Michael took over the leadership, it wouldn't be good for the party."

The then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern admits to being aware of the leadership struggles with his coalition partners. "It was quite clear to us outside of the cabinet table that there was pressure on Mary Harney from Michael McDowell . . . but at the cabinet table they never dropped the guard," according to Ahern.

"I think there was pressure on Mary Harney as to . . . what direction the PD's were going and it was clear to us that there were tensions. I think Mary Harney being the leader for a long time . . . was the tension," he adds.

After an abysmal result in the 2004 elections, doubt was cast over the future of the Progressive Democrats. "I remember being at the funeral of the late Maureen Lynch on the morning of the count of the elections, and we were just hearing the initial results and Michael was with me at that, and obviously we were very disappointed. And for a number of months after that, I think that's when the dialogue took place with Fine Gael," says Mary Harney.

Representatives from both parties met on several occasions to discuss a possible merger. "Well it was kept extremely tight and very confidential. I had never attended any of the meetings apart from that first one," McDowell admits.

Asked how seriously Fine Gael took the discussions, Richard Bruton says, "It never reached my radar and I was deputy leader of the party so it never got beyond bar room talk as far as I am concerned, if it even existed in the bar rooms."

'The PDs: From Boom to Bust' is shown on RTE One tomorrow at 9.35pm

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