Friday 24 November 2017

Fianna Fail HQ consider sale of Bertie's St Luke's

Party blames Drumcondra mafia's 'toxic asset' for spreading 'poison'

Jerome Reilly and Maeve Sheehan

ST Luke's, the personal fiefdom of Bertie Ahern and the 'Drumcondra mafia' for 25 years, is now regarded by Fianna Fail headquarters as a "toxic asset" that should be brought rapidly under central party control, then sold off.

"It has come to symbolise all that is wrong with Fianna Fail in Dublin," a senior party source told the Sunday Independent.

"In Dublin Central, we have gone from five city councillors and two Dail deputies -- including a Taoiseach -- to one single councillor. St Luke's is at the heart of the poison. We don't think it can be rehabilitated.

Selling St Luke's would also help give the party some breathing space to tackle its massive debt of €3.6m.

"Yes, it would help financially," a source said.

"Despite the property downturn, it is still a valuable property in a prime location, but if Micheal Martin wants to send out a message that he is serious about reorganising the Fianna Fail party, he must dismantle St Luke's and all that it stood for."

St Luke's, a two-storey redbrick house at No 161 Lower Drumcondra Road, became the political powerhouse of Mr Ahern and the Drumcondra mafia.

It was bought in the late Eighties to replace an existing Dublin Central party HQ owned by Fianna Fail at Amiens Street, which had become unfit for purpose.

It is said that a group of between 20 and 30 men gathered in the Gresham Hotel in December 1987 to discuss how they would finance the purchase of St Luke's, which had already been 'sale agreed' and which would become the base of the Ahern machine for the next 25 years.

The purpose of the meeting was for the participants to pledge £1,000 each per year for the project and in doing so become members of the 'St Luke's Club'.

The previous month, in November 1987, when the purchase of St Luke's had been 'sale agreed', the names of Des Richardson, Tim Collins and Joe Burke were on the sale document.

Some time after the sale, the 'St Luke's Club' became the 'St Luke's Trust', administered by a group of local supporters of Mr Ahern, including his solicitor Gerard Brennan, Des Richardson, Joe Burke, Paddy Reilly, Tim Collins, and Jimmy Keane. Another €50,000 was also required for renovations and structural work.

The identity of the current trustees of St Luke's is unclear.

Chris Wall, an associate of Mr Ahern, told this newspaper the future of the building would be discussed at a constituency meeting tomorrow week.

The building is owned in trust for the Dublin Central constituency, which technically means that anyone in the local organisations should be free to use it.

Mr Ahern is still operating from it, even though he has officially retired from politics.

One option suggested by Ahern loyalists is that the former Taoiseach could rent the building from the Dublin Central organisation.

"Whoever takes it on will have to pay hefty running costs," Mr Wall said.

The substantial period building costs an estimated €50,000 to €60,000 in maintenance, heat and general upkeep a year, according to Mr Wall. "The future management of St Luke's will be discussed at the next meeting of the Dublin Central officer board," he said. "We have to put together a package that ensures the service we provided is continued by those representing the constituency in the future."

Sunday Independent

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