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Reynolds to go on attack at tribunal over Bahamas visit

FORMER Taoiseach Albert Reynolds is expected to mount a vigorous attack on the Mahon Tribunal when he takes the stand at the long-running inquiry in the New Year.

Mr Reynolds is understood to be deeply annoyed at the manner in which the details of his official visit as Taoiseach to the United States and the Bahamas in 1994 were dealt with by the tribunal last Wednesday.

Sources close to the former Taoiseach have told the Sunday Independent of his concern that the Mahon Tribunal's attempts to verify the substance of the sensational allegations of its star witness, Tom Gilmartin, are being made without proper regard for Mr Reynolds' own reputation.

Last Wednesday, Air Corps chief Brigadier General Ralph James was in the witness box at Dublin Castle to answer questions relating to the flight logs of the government jet from March 1994.

Tribunal lawyers had sought the Air Corps records earlier this year after Mr Gilmartin claimed Mr Reynolds had raised £1 million for Fianna Fail in the US while there for the St Patrick's Day celebrations.

The Luton-based former developer further alleged that the former Taoiseach returned to Ireland with just £70,000, having taken what the Mahon Tribunal referred to last Wednesday as an "unscheduled" flight on the Government jet to the Bahamian island of Freeport.

Commenting on the alleged missing £930,000, Mr Gilmartin surmised that: "It must have fallen out of the plane on the way back and floated to the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands."

Mr Reynolds has firmly denied having ever been involved in any fundraising activity for Fianna Fail in the US, or here in Ireland.

Sources close to the former Taoiseach said last night that he is outraged at the suggestion that his visit to Freeport in 1994 took place for any other reason than official State business.

Mr Reynolds insists he and and his officials were invited to the island by the Bahamas' then Prime Minister as part of discussions in relation to the redevelopment of its main port.

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The invitation was extended to the Irish delegation in the course of the first-ever official State visit to the Bahamas.

Among those who flew with the then Taoiseach to Freeport for the meeting were his private secretary, Colm Butler, special advisers Martin Mansergh and Paddy Teahon, Government Press Secretary Sean Duignan, and Ireland's then ambassador to the US Sean O hUigin.

Mr Reynolds' wife, Kathleen, as well as a Ms A Reynolds (believed to be his daughter) and a Mr O'Hara also travelled to Freeport on the government jet.

The return flight from Freeport to Dublin saw Mr O hUigin and Ms A Reynolds' names crossed off the passenger list, as they made alternative arrangements to return to the United States.

The names of Mr Reynolds' fellow passengers emerged at the Mahon Tribunal last Wednesday during tribunal counsel Patricia Dillon's 25-minute questioning of Air Corps chief Brigadier General Ralph James in relation to the flights taken during the March 1994 trip.

Curiously however, none of those who travelled to the US and the Bahamas with the former Taoiseach have been listed on the Mahon Tribunal's list of witnesses to be called between now and the expected end of its public hearings in 2008.

Last week one of those who travelled with the Taoiseach's delegation in 1994 -- Fianna Fail TD Martin Mansergh, came out to publicly defend Mr Reynolds.

In a statement on the matter of the US and Bahamas trip, he said: "At the end of the visit on March 19, which included functions in a number of cities as well as St Patrick's Day celebrations in Washington, the Taoiseach flew from Hartford, Connecticut, to the Bahamas for the first official visit from Ireland, which was neither 'informal' nor 'unscheduled', and which lasted three days from Saturday till Monday inclusive.

"He was greeted with full military honours, including a multi-gun army salute, by the prime minister of the Bahamas at the airport. Later that Saturday afternoon, officials from both governments, including myself, sat down to explore a number of areas of co-operation.

That evening, Tony O'Reilly, chairman of Independent Newspapers, hosted a dinner for Albert Reynolds and his delegation, which was attended by half the cabinet of the Bahamas, at his home at Lyford Quay.

"On Monday March 21, 1994, there were resumed talks chaired by the Taoiseach and prime minister and a number of visits made to small enterprises. The whole emphasis of the visit was on economic development and mutual co-operation."

Mr Mansergh added that an official report of the talks in the Bahamas is on file at the Department of the Taoiseach.

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