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Dig-out donor says link to Ahern 'was helpful for business'

A BUSINESSMAN who gave former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern IR£5,000, even though he was not a close friend, has said it did not do him "any harm" among his construction industry colleagues.

A new documentary shows Barry English saying he met Mr Ahern only a handful of times prior to giving the donation, in 1994.

The four-part 'Bertie' series, which starts tonight on RTE1, features interviews from the so-called 'Drumcondra Mafia', as well as covering his rise through politics and his marriage breakdown.

Mr English was one of four friends of Mr Ahern who gave a donation totalling IR£16,500 as a "dig-out" to buy a home for the then finance minister.

"I work in the construction industry, my clients are developers and the like, and I don't think it does me any harm to be known publicly as a friend of Bertie Ahern's because, you know, this guy has helped the country, has helped us to become the nation we are," he said. "He said 'thanks very much' and 'I'll sort you out'."

When questioned whether he was a personal friend of Mr Ahern, Mr English said "absolutely not".

"I could have met him seven, eight, nine, 10 times -- you know, you don't count," he said.

Regret

During an extensive three-hour interview for the documentary, Mr Ahern said he regretted the decision to take the money.

"As a principle, I was probably wrong to take the money from anyone but if I ever thought that I was going to be answerable for all of these things years later, and that there was any great significance in them, of course you wouldn't do them at all," he said.

The first episode details how the young Mr Ahern was present in a crowd as the British embassy in Dublin was burnt down in 1972.

Friends of his also joined the IRA during that time and he said he could have done the same, if he had not been in a staunch Fianna Fail household.

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His former wife, Miriam, said that Mr Ahern withdrew from family life as his career moved on.

"I was very happy for him to receive the recognition, to be Lord Mayor of Dublin was a great honour, and then to be Minister for Labour. In Dail terms, he was furthering his career," said Ms Ahern. "But there was a time also that I was very disappointed in him. He seemed to withdraw from family life and from me, and I couldn't really understand that. That was really a very difficult time."

During his rise through the ranks, his former partner Celia Larkin, who did not take part in the documentary, set up the local constituency office, although close colleagues said there were mixed views of the businesswoman.

"I would say that the majority of us wouldn't be that mad about her. In the social circle at times, it could be quite tense and difficult. She had staked her claim, this was her space, and basically people had to skirt about that," said Paddy Duffy, Mr Ahern's former special advisor.

His daughter Cecelia said it was impossible to know her father fully. "You ask him a question and he can talk for ages and, right there and then, you will have believed that he has spent a good 10 minutes sharing his feelings with you; but yet he hasn't. It is the way he is," she said.

On joining the IRA:

"Friends of mine did and played an active movement in it. I think if maybe I wasn't in a Fianna Fail household, maybe I would have."

On being elected to the Dail for the first time in 1977:

"I knew nothing about the set-up in Dail Eireann. I didn't know which was the front door and which was the back door."

On Celia Larkin, when she first worked for him:

"She came to work with me as a full-time constituency secretary, running the operation to service what was a very busy constituency. She was superb. She would say it as she saw it."

On negotiations as Minister for Labour:

"If you don't understand where they are coming from, then you cannot successfully negotiate. It comes with talking to people."

On the breakdown of his marriage:

"I think in any life, when you are working a lot of hours, when you are not at home, when your concentration is always on something else, when you are not giving your best maybe to your own life, you get into difficulties and that is inevitable."

"It was traumatic. It was traumatic for everyone. It was traumatic for Miriam. It was traumatic for me. It was traumatic to those close to you and you just do your best."

On the failure of Brian Lenihan's presidential bid, when he was campaign manager:

"The presidential campaign, if he would have won it, it would have been a good plus. Into that period, it was difficult and you just have to get on with it and see what the next opportunity is."

On rumours about his marriage in the early 1990s: "Ireland is a small place. The surrounds of Leinster House are a small place. When you go in and you say something nasty about someone, they are going to hear it back. I heard it back, I know who said it."

On the devaluation of the punt:

"Probably the handling of that was one of my best decisions."

On his finances:

"The main thing to remember about all of this stuff is that if I wasn't separated, I wouldn't have been staying in St Luke's. I wouldn't have been trying to buy another house. I wouldn't have been cashing my cheques or friends wouldn't have been giving me money; so all three of the issues which were such trouble to me were directly related to the fact I was separated."


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