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Friday 24 January 2020

Move to quit party I love is sad but no signal of guilt

I always told the truth, I never accepted improper payments and I did nothing wrong, says ex-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern

This week has been an extremely difficult and emotional one for me. I am hurt and disappointed by the findings of the Mahon tribunal.

At the outset, I want to make it clear I have done nothing wrong or dishonest. I never took a corrupt payment from anyone and I told the truth to the Mahon tribunal about my finances and the difficult personal circumstances I found myself in.

I believe a grave injustice has been done to me. I bear the members of the tribunal no ill will. They faced a daunting task. But their findings in relation to me are not correct. They are plain and simply wrong.

I have to be true to myself. It would be far easier for me to say nothing and try to forget about this nightmare. But I can't allow this blemish on my character to go unanswered.

What has been said about me is erroneous, unwarranted and unjust. And I am under no doubt these findings have damaged my reputation. I am now actively considering my options as to how I can and I will vindicate my good name.

The tribunal is not a court of law. And it is not infallible. Over the course of the tribunal I had to take High Court challenges to some of the things it tried to do which were unlawful.

I did this reluctantly and as a last resort and I won all of those cases.

I was also among a large group of citizens who had been victims of a serious breach of constitutional justice when it emerged that the tribunal tried to prevent the disclosure of Mr Gilmartin's lengthy catalogue of prior inconsistent statements.

While this is a matter for the tribunal, I am saddened that there has never been an explanation or even an expression of regret for those breaches and the costs and delays that flowed from the breaches. I believe the tribunal's final report should have addressed this matter.

The work of the tribunal has spanned almost 15 years and matters have been inquired into that date back into the 1980s.

The tribunal has cost millions of euro and in making its final report it carried with it an enormous weight of public expectation.

Given the fact that I served as Taoiseach for almost 10 years, I can understand how an impression might have been created that a trawl of my finances and lifestyle should be at the heart of the inquiry. This of course is not the case

Properly considered, my role in the planning history of Quarryvale was insignificant.

The only reason that the tribunal proceeded to investigate me was the entirely untrue and unworthy allegation that I had received money from Owen O'Callaghan. Without that allegation (which in truth was no more than rumour and gossip) it had no mandate at all to carry out a general inquiry into my life and into the lives of people who I love and care deeply about.

On this key, substantive point there is no evidence whatsoever to show I received anything from Mr O'Callaghan.

Nor could there be because, put simply, this never happened.

Owen O'Callaghan never gave me a red cent and not a shred of evidence was produced, after years of inquiry, to give even an ounce of credence to this dirty, vicious allegation.

At the end of the day, the tribunal report shows:

- There is no evidence capable of sustaining a finding that Mr O'Callaghan transferred money to me.

- There is no evidence capable of sustaining a finding that I received any money from Mr O'Callaghan.

- There is no evidence that I made any decision for the benefit of Mr O'Callaghan.

- There is no evidence that I made any decisions relevant to the Quarryvale development.

I have accepted before that my personal finances were chaotic, I apologise for that, especially if it has caused anxiety or confusion for people as this arose from a busy and personally traumatic period in my life.

I was in the process of bringing my marital separation to a conclusion; I was occupying high office with the enormous workload and punishing schedules that went with it; I was a busy TD in a large and demanding constituency; and I was a senior officer and later leader of this State's largest political party, at a time when that party was working to rebuild itself. Through all of this I was the father of two young children; in a new relationship; and maintaining long-standing friendships.

The unorthodox nature of my financial affairs has allowed the tribunal to cast doubt on the veracity of the evidence I gave them.

I was honest with the tribunal and I gave it truthful evidence and I wholeheartedly reject any suggestion that I did otherwise.

What I find most frustrating is that even where there is no evidence to the contrary, in many instances, my evidence has been summarily rejected and no good reason has been set out for why this is the case.

I am incredulous that the tribunal has made findings rejecting the evidence of a number of individuals -- including a number of friends who loaned me money -- whose evidence supported mine. In the case of almost every person who lent me money, their explanations were not challenged at the hearings in any substantial way. I believe this is fundamentally unfair.

The tribunal heard evidence at length and from multiple sources that my earnings were more than sufficient to allow for the accumulation of the savings that ultimately were lodged to my accounts. A forensic accountant confirmed that this reflected my legitimate accumulated after-tax income. Yet they sought to discount this crucial evidence. Why?

I note that there is a motion pending to expel me from the Fianna Fail Party. I am deeply saddened by that.

I have been a member of Fianna Fail for over 40 years. I have worked extraordinarily hard on the party's behalf in a lifetime devoted to politics. I have the greatest of respect for the membership of the Fianna Fail Party right across the country. They are decent, patriotic people who care about their community and our country.

I have been privileged to have served the Fianna Fail Party at every level and I have been lucky enough to have met and made tremendous friends with so many dedicated people. I have also been given extraordinary support and I am grateful for all the messages of solidarity and kindness that I have received from party members and from other members of the public this week.

I have taken great solace from this true spirit of generosity in the most difficult of times. As Taoiseach, I was proud of what I achieved in working for peace on this island and in creating employment. As leader of Fianna Fail, I was proud to represent a great republican party and to play a leading role in uniting the party after years of division.

The last thing I want to do, given that I have now retired as a public representative, is to be a source of political division in the party I care so deeply about.

I appreciate the support that party members have pledged to me unprompted in the past week. I have decided the best way that I can now serve Fianna Fail is to tender my resignation as a member of the party.

I know that this motion has created debate and discussion and I don't want this to become divisive. So I do this with immense sadness and genuine regret, but also with a deep affection for the grassroots members of the party who I shared so many good days with.

I wish Micheal Martin and his parliamentary colleagues every success in rebuilding Fianna Fail.

In tendering my resignation, I want people to understand that this is a political decision. I believe Fianna Fail and indeed all political parties in this State have more pressing issues to contend with than whether or not I am a member of a local cumann in Drumcondra.

My resignation is not an admission of wrongdoing in regard to the report of the Mahon tribunal, and nobody should try to interpret it in that way. In regard to the tribunal's report, I want everyone to understand:

I have told the truth.

I received no improper payment.

And I have done nothing wrong.

I reject the findings of this inaccurate and unsubstantiated report in the strongest possible manner.

Sunday Independent

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