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Ex-surgery was at heart of Bertie's ascent to power

It was once a doctor's surgery, but St Luke's became the best known political clinic in the country.

After almost a quarter of a century as the headquarters for a Taoiseach, celebrated for his constituency operation and his loyal supporters, the future of the building is now in doubt.

The red-brick house at 161 Lower Drumcondra Road that dates from 1929 is set back at an angle on one of the busiest routes in Dublin, linking the city centre with the airport.

Fianna Fail's Dublin Central constituency organisation, headed by members of the infamous 'Drumcondra Mafia', bought the building in January 1988 for IR£56,000.

The renovation and furnishing of the house, including the repair of a structural fault, was estimated to have cost another IR£44,000. All told, the bill for St Luke's came in at about IR£100,000.

The building was turned into a constituency office for Bertie Ahern, with an apartment overhead where he occasionally lived as his marriage had broken up. The house is located across the road from Mr Ahern's local bar, Fagan's, where he previously operated from an office overhead.

The two-storey house consists of a large entrance hall with a constituency and private offices on the ground floor. A meeting hall at the back of the building is used for constituency organisation gatherings.

Down the back of the entrance hall, by the meeting hall, a small bar was later installed, which was used for occasional entertaining and constituency events. Alongside is a kitchen area.

The roomy building has an enclosed yard at the back, where Mr Ahern would plant his hanging baskets.

Staffed

Upstairs an apartment was kitted out and this was where Mr Ahern lived in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Over the years, Mr Ahern's office was staffed by Celia Larkin, his former partner; Cyprian Brady, his protege, who was elected as a TD in 2007; Grainne Carruth, whose teary-eyed evidence to the Mahon Tribunal was a turning point in public opinion of him; and Sandra Cullagh, who remains his secretary to this day.

During his time as Taoiseach, it was common to see the two black state cars parked on the footpath outside the house. Rather than heading into Government Buildings on weekends, the house was sometimes used for important meetings, particularly on the peace process.

In his donations returns to the Standards In Public Office Commission, Mr Ahern listed use of the office as €12,000 a year worth of benefit-in-kind from 'Fianna Fail St Luke's'.

The running of the building was funded by the Fianna Fail O'Donovan Rossa Cumann annual dinner, at €200 a plate.

The building is owned by the Fianna Fail Dublin Central Constituency trust. The members of the trust are Mr Ahern's friends Des Richardson, Joe Burke and Tim Collins. The late James Keane was also a trustee.

The original purchase of the house and the setting up of the trust was organised by Mr Ahern's late friend, solicitor Gerry Brennan, who passed away in 1997.

Irish Independent