FORMER Taoiseach Albert Reynolds will not be called to give evidence to the planning tribunal after it was confirmed he is suffering from a serious brain condition.
Mr Reynolds was due to give evidence at the Mahon Tribunal yesterday on allegations that developer Owen O'Callaghan paid him IR£150,000.
The former Taoiseach has previously described these allegations as "nonsense".
But Mr Reynolds (75) is unlikely to appear again as a witness and has effectively retired from public life after the tribunal heard he was suffering from a "serious cognitive impairment".
His absence is a severe blow to the tribunal, which is tasked with compiling a report into payments to politicians.
Mr Reynolds' representatives had told the tribunal that, based on the evidence of his family GP and two medical consultants, he was unfit to give any further evidence. The tribunal then engaged its own two medical consultants to conduct independent medical examinations on the former Taoiseach.
"Having been presented with detailed information from the five medical experts, including the two consultants engaged by the tribunal, and (it is) their essentially unanimous opinion that Mr Reynolds has a significant cognitive impairment which renders him medically unfit to give evidence to this tribunal at this time or the foreseeable future," tribunal chairman Alan Mahon said yesterday.
But the judge also said the tribunal reserved "the right to review this decision in the event that it receives information which might suggest a change or an improvement in Mr Reynolds' medical condition".
Mr Reynolds did not want to comment personally on the nature of his disease last night.
"I don't want to give a bald answer," he said. He referred all queries to his solicitor, who also declined to comment.
Significant cognitive impairment affects the function of the brain and can lead to a range of symptoms, including memory loss and difficulty with speech. It has a number of possible causes, including Alzheimer's Disease. It could also be linked to a number of small strokes.
It is understood the former Fianna Fail leader has undergone a number of MRI scans, PET scans and a series of diagnostic tests in recent months.
Close friends of Mr Reynolds last night said his condition had deteriorated recently, but that he was anxious to keep it out of the media spotlight.
"Albert wouldn't let you know he had a toothache," one friend told the Irish Independent.
The former Taoiseach was formally de-listed as a tribunal witness after medical evidence was presented yesterday.
Mr Reynolds had been due to give evidence on allegations made by Tom Gilmartin, who claimed rival developer Owen O'Callaghan told him he paid £150,000 to the former Taoiseach. Both Mr Reynolds and Mr O'Callaghan have dismissed the claim as nonsense.
He was also due to be asked about a claim by Mr Gilmartin that Mr Reynolds had raised US$1m in funding for Fianna Fail in 1994, but only £70,000 found its way back to party HQ.
Mr Gilmartin claimed he had been given to understand that the rest of the money "fell off the plane and drifted to the Cayman Islands or the Bahamas".
The tribunal has already heard evidence that Mr Reynolds attended a private house party in Cork in March 1994, at which £50,000 was raised. He was picked up by the Air Corps in the early hours and taken from Cork to Dublin by helicopter.
Hours later, Mr Reynolds flew by government jet to the US for a St Patrick's Day trip. The tribunal has been furnished with Air Corps logs that show the group flew from the US to the Bahamas for an official visit. However, the government jet then flew on an unofficial additional trip to Freeport in the north of the islands.