Tuesday 22 October 2019

PAC will not investigate Bertie expenses allegations

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

The Public Accounts Committee has been told it cannot investigate allegations of expenses fraud made against former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

The Oireachtas public-spending watchdog received a complaint from a member of the public about expenses filed by Mr Ahern when he was a backbench TD.

Earlier this year, the Sunday Independent revealed the same complaint was made to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation and a file was sent to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP). The DPP ruled there was no evidence to charge Mr Ahern.

Retired builder John Wolfe alleges Mr Ahern wrongly claimed travel and accommodation allowance (TAA), which is paid to TDs and Senators, when he had the full-time use of a State car and garda driver.

He reported his allegations to the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation last year after previously raising the matter with the Houses of the Oireachtas and the Standards in Public Office Commission.

Mr Wolfe, who campaigns for reform of parliamentary expenses, contacted the PAC in light of allegations about former politicians holding secret Ansbacher accounts.

However, a well-placed source said the PAC received legal advice that it could not investigate Mr Wolfe's allegations because of the DPP ruling. "It went to the DPP and the DPP said it wasn't prosecuting, so how could the PAC then investigate it?" a source said. "It appears no rules were broken."

The source added: "There probably is an issue here for changing the regulations so that kind of stuff doesn't happen again, but we couldn't investigate it because the gardai already investigated it." Mr Ahern, who resigned as leader of Fianna Fail following the damning findings of the Mahon Report, claimed €12,000 in travel expenses between 2010 and 2011 when he was a backbench TD.

Mr Wolfe claims Mr Ahern could not have incurred the entire amount he claimed as he lived less than 10km from Leinster House and had a round-the-clock chauffeur-driven car, which was paid for by taxpayers. Mr Ahern did not have a driver's licence at the time. The allowance is paid to politicians to cover the cost of travelling between Leinster House and their constituencies. It also covers constituency travel and accommodation costs for politicians who stay overnight in Dublin. The monthly payment is paid to politicians based on their constituency's proximity from Leinster House. TDs and Senators must clock in for work at least 120 days in a Dail term to receive the full amount. They are required to sign a 'certificate of expenditure' confirming the entirety of the allowance was spent on work-related expenses.

At the end of each year, politicians can return any of the allowance they have not used.

When Mr Ahern was a backbench TD former Taoisigh were entitled to a state car and garda driver on retirement paid for by the taxpayer.

Former Justice Minister Alan Shatter abolished the entitlement three years ago.

Mr Wolfe wrote to the DPP seeking details for its decision not to prosecute Mr Ahern. The DPP said it was not obliged to provide him with the information. He has also written to Garda Commissioner Noirin O'Sullivan asking her to review the garda investigation into his allegation. Mr Ahern previously insisted he never claimed for any expenses he was not entitled to. "The fact I had a car or not has nothing to do with it. The expenses, as I remember at that time, weren't related to your car, it was to do with your constituency," he said.

He added: "It's set down statutorily and I would have stuck by whatever the rules were. Nobody was in touch with me either from the Oireachtas or the guards."

Sunday Independent

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