Payments to Ahern: the questions remain
NEARLY half of voters believe Taoiseach Bertie Ahern still has questions to answer over his payments controversy, a new Irish Independent poll reveals. Mr Ahern's handling of the so-called 'Bertiegate' affair has clearly divided the nation as almost half the people polled do not buy his explanation.
NEARLY half of voters believe Taoiseach Bertie Ahern still has questions to answer over his payments controversy, a new Irish Independent/Millward Brown-IMS poll reveals.
Mr Ahern's handling of the so-called 'Bertiegate' affair has clearly divided the nation as almost half the people polled do not buy his explanation.
Indeed, more people believe he still has more questions to answer than those who believe he has dealt with the matter completely.
It is the first time voters have been asked for their view on the Taoiseach's explanation.
Forty-eight per cent say Mr Ahern should provide further explanation of how he came to receive money from friends and businessmen in the early 1990s.
However, 45pc say he should not provide further explanation about the loans and gifts he received when he was Minister of Finance, while 6pc don't know or have no opinion.
The result shows there is still considerable unease about Mr Ahern's personal finances, even though Fianna Fail's support did increase in the wake of the revelations.
The poll also shows:
* Fine Gael and Labour are now the first choice to form a government;
* Pat Rabbitte's rejection of a possible Fianna Fail/Labour coalition is not believed by three-in-five;
* Enda Kenny's standing as a possible Taoiseach is improving but Bertie Ahern is still well ahead;
* The health service has deteriorated over the past five years, according to a whopping three-in-five;
* The Government has handled the economy well over the past six months, according to half of the electorate;
* PDs have failed to be the watchdogs of Fianna Fail, voters say, by a margin of two-to-one.
Following on from the alleged smear campaign a week ago when there were claims that Mr Ahern took a briefcase of money to Manchester, the payments controversy will come up again this week.
Tomorrow, the Taoiseach will have to decide whether to extend the term as chairman of Dublin Port of Joe Burke, one of the friends who loaned him money.
The term of office of the board and Mr Burke runs out tomorrow, so some decision must be taken by the Cabinet.
The files on the payments are still being examined by the Planning Tribunal.
The Mahon Tribunal is due to resume public hearings on April 30, when a statement will be made on the status of the Quarryvale II module.
It is not clear whether the payments to Mr Ahern will be referred to or if he will be called as a witness before the tribunal shuts down for the duration of the general election campaign.
The poll shows opinion is clearly divided on whether Mr Ahern should give a further explanation on the money he received in the early 1990s.
Despite weeks of questions, analysis and inquiries into his financial affairs, when the revelations emerged last September, Mr Ahern has not satisfied half of the voters.
Either these voters feel he still has to answer questions or they were not satisfied with his answers in the first place.
Of those who believe he should provide further explanation, this view is higher among those aged 18-24, people in Munster and urban areas, and Fine Gael and Labour voters.
From the almost equal number who say Mr Ahern should not provide any further explanation, this view is higher among those aged over 65, professionals and those in business, people living in Dublin and Fianna Fail voters. Asked last night if the allegations that he had carried a suitcase of money onto a flight to Manchester could have affected the results, the Taoiseach said any allegations around election time were not helpful.
"And allegations that are not true are certainly not helpful," he said.
He also said he accepted there was a trend of opinion polls showing Fianna Fail in the high 30s in percentage points, down from the 42pc achieved at the last general election.
The Irish Independent/Millward Brown-IMS poll was conducted among a sample of 1,082 adults who were interviewed on a face-to-face basis in the home at 100 sampling points in all the constituencies.
The interviews for this national public opinion poll were carried out last Monday and Tuesday.
Fionnan Sheahan and Senan Molony
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