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Taoiseach left to sweat by court

TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern will have to wait to find out if and how the Mahon Tribunal, in its final report, can deal with statements he made inside the Dail about his personal finances.

Last Tuesday, the tribunal conceded it could not question Mr Ahern about statements he made inside the Dail or question the veracity, propriety or motivation behind statements made inside the Oireachtas because of the constitutional protection afforded to parliamentary privilege.

But the tribunal wants to be able to "draw attention" to the Dail statements during future cross-examination of the Taoiseach, a move that Mr Ahern's lawyers have objected to because they say it would amount to a direct or indirect attack on his Dail privilege and the veracity of statements he made to other politicians.

Yesterday the High Court reserved judgment on the challenge by Mr Ahern to the handling by the tribunal of its inquiries into lodgements to his accounts when he was Minister for Finance in 1993 and 1994. At the conclusion of the two day hearing yesterday, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Richard Johnson, sitting with Mr Justice Peter Kelly and Mr Justice Iarfhlaith O'Neill, said the court would give its decision later.

Documents

One of the main issues in the case has already been resolved after the tribunal agreed to hand over documents on which it based its claims concerning the lodgements to Mr Ahern.

The 110-page file consists of bank data and computer records and the tribunal has stated it considered them as of a limited nature and not relevant to cross-examination.

The resolution of this issue now means that tribunal staff will not be asked to give evidence on their calculations which were disputed by the Taoiseach as "hypotheses".

The court will also examine 150 documents, over which Mr Ahern is claiming legal privilege, and which relate to his retention of banking expert Paddy Stronge to refute the tribunal's claims about the nature of two lodgements -- one to Mr Ahern's account and one to an account of his former partner Celia Larkin.

The first issue the court has to decide relates to how the tribunal may deal with statements made in the Dail in September and October 2006 by the Taoiseach about his financial affairs.

The court also has to decide whether Mr Ahern is entitled to claim legal privilege over the documents prepared by Mr Stronge on behalf of the Taoiseach.

In submissions yesterday, Denis McDonald, counsel for the tribunal, said the Constitution did not prevent the tribunal making a reference, within its own report or in questioning Mr Ahern, to the fact Mr Ahern had made statements about his financial affairs in 2006

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In doing so, the tribunal was not calling the statements into question.

The tribunal's role was to try and elucidate all the relevant facts and it was inquiring into a matter of urgent public importance, Mr McDonald said. Brian Murray, counsel for Mr Ahern, said he believed all the court could regarding the tribunal's to "draw attention" to Mr Ahern's Dail statements was to draw the legal ground rules.

Mr Justice Richard Johnson remarked it was like the reference to "tackle'' in the rules of Gaelic games.

The rules said you may tackle but didn't say what tackling was.

Mr Murray said his side was in court because they had asked the tribunal to state it "would not tackle us'' [about the Dail statements] but the tribunal had declined to do so.

l kevin myers and james downey, pages 24/25 l 32-page pullout on the fallout and ahern's career


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