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Recording at tribunal 'unprecedented'

A solicitor who represented two of the most important witnesses at the Mahon tribunal has described as "unprecedented" its decision to video record their appearances and those of others it called to give evidence.

Hugh Millar, who acted for both Bertie Ahern's former partner Celia Larkin and his former constituency secretary Grainne Carruth, told the Sunday Independent that he had not been aware that his clients' testimony had been filmed.

"I was not aware that there was video recording at the tribunal. I cannot think of any reason why the tribunal would video record its proceedings or what use those recordings would be put to. There was a stenographer present every day hence there is an accurate record of the proceedings. Video recording any proceedings such as these is unprecedented as far as I am aware," Mr Millar said.

In the case of Ms Carruth's appearance at the tribunal, the existence of a video record will be seen by many as particularly disturbing given her dramatic breakdown in the witness box.

Confronted with the relentless questioning of the tribunal's senior counsel Des O'Neill in relation to her handling of sterling deposits on behalf of Mr Ahern, Ms Carruth broke down in tears on her second day at the inquiry.

Asked by Mr O'Neill what was upsetting her about giving evidence, Ms Carruth said: "Because it's taking me from my family. I just want to go home."

Ms Carruth's emotional response is widely seen as having marked a turning point in the public's attitude to both the Mahon tribunal and to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, whose unorthodox personal financial affairs it was investigating at the time.

While Mr Ahern resigned as Taoiseach within two weeks of his former constituency secretary's dramatic appearance at the tribunal, he insisted his decision had not been motivated by events at Dublin Castle.

Responding to queries from the media last week, the Mahon tribunal posted a statement on its website last Thursday evening in which it insisted that the video recordings had "never been shown or released to any third party, and will not be released in the future".

The tribunal said in the same statement that it had used a camera to record witnesses at its public sittings since 2002.

Commenting on its reasons for doing so, the tribunal said: "Such electronic recording has proved useful on a number of occasions in correcting errors in the stenographically recorded transcripts of evidence. A number of such errors were corrected at the request of witnesses."

While a number of witnesses will have been surprised to learn that their testimony was filmed, the tribunal said that references had occasionally been made to such electronic recording in the course of its public hearings.

"Furthermore the camera recording the witnesses giving evidence was clearly visible at all times," the tribunal's statement added.

It remains unclear whether the tribunal's video record will now be destroyed or put into storage along with its transcripts.

Sunday Independent