Thursday 5 December 2019

PD link to tax dodge dossier alleged in Dail showdown

Mary Harney: Former minister responsible for the 'Fair Deal' scheme
Mary Harney: Former minister responsible for the 'Fair Deal' scheme

Shane Phelan and Daniel McConnell

A WHISTLEBLOWER claimed former Tanaiste Mary Harney "shut down" his investigation into allegations of offshore tax evasion after he uncovered the names of senior politicians in the Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, the Dail has heard.

It is the first time Ms Harney's party, the now defunct PDs, have been implicated in the escalating controversy.

The disclosure came as the Dail's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) was told by its legal advisers it did not have the power to investigate the claims, made in a dossier passed to its members by a civil servant last week.

Instead the committee will now refer the dossier to the gardai.

PAC member Mary Lou McDonald used parliamentary privilege to disclose the PD link to a secret ledger, which is alleged to have been used to record the names of high profile Ansbacher account holders from 1977 until the mid-1990s.

Department of Jobs official Gerard Ryan investigated the Ansbacher scandal between 1998 and 2004, when Ms Harney instructed him to finish his probe.

At the time his probe ended he was investigating a list of senior politicians which he says he was informed of by former staff at the Guinness & Mahon Bank, which ran the Ansbacher tax evasion scheme.

He claims several State agencies subsequently informed of the list did not properly investigate the matter.

Mr Ryan passed a dossier of allegations to the Dail's Public Accounts Committee last week, stating he was doing so under new legislation which provides legal protection for whistleblowers.

Questioning Taoiseach Enda Kenny yesterday, Ms McDonald asked if he believed the claims made in the dossier.

"Does he believe Mr Ryan when he states that his investigation was shut down by the former Tanaiste, Ms Mary Harney, when he uncovered that named senior politicians from the Progressive Democrats, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael held offshore accounts, revelations that, undoubtedly, would have been most uncomfortable for the political establishment?" asked Ms McDonald.

The Sinn Fein deputy leader also asked if Mr Kenny believed Mr Ryan's claim that Jobs Minister Richard Bruton "was part of this pattern of political obstruction" by failing to forward a statement to gardai which was prepared by Mr Ryan two years ago.

The statement was finally forwarded to gardai on Tuesday this week, after the Government blamed "a delay in the system" for it not being sent sooner.

Responding to Ms McDonald, Mr Kenny said he welcomed the fact Mr Ryan had used the whistleblower legislation and said that he must be protected.

"If the whistleblower, in his statement, is of the view that some of the institutions of the State did not follow through in the way that they should have, that is now a matter on which the fraud squad should follow through," said Mr Kenny.

Meanwhile the PAC was told in a private meeting last night it could not investigate the claims in the dossier as they were "beyond its remit".

Instead the PAC resolved to refer the dossier to the gardai.

The committee was also given legal advice that it could not call Mr Ryan before it to give testimony.

It was also told that Mr Ryan was not covered by the terms of the Protected Disclosers Act 2014, as he was an investigator and therefore excluded from such legal cover.

However, it is understood that Mr Ryan has received conflicting legal advice which states he is covered by the act.

The committee was also told it cannot request a wider 700-page file prepared by Mr Ryan.

Members were told that it had two options which it could pursue to bring the matter within its remit.

Firstly, it can ask the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) to conduct a report into the non-collection of taxes in relation to the Ansbacher scandal.

Secondly, members were told they could seek an Oireachtas resolution, allowing it to set up a DIRT like inquiry, but this was deemed to be unworkable by members.

Irish Independent

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