Wednesday 29 January 2020

Video: FF bids to seize St Luke's from disgraced Ahern

Bertie Ahern, leaves his house
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin walks into the party’s press conference in the Alexander Hotel in Dublin
BERTIE Ahern's former partner Celia Larkin was yesterday concentrating on her third-level studies at the University of Limerick – and staying silent on the Mahon Tribunal. It found Ms Larkin was given a briefcase by Mr Ahern containing $45,000 to lodge in her bank account.

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

FIANNA Fail leader Micheal Martin will attempt to seize St Luke's -- the celebrated headquarters of Bertie Ahern -- from the former Taoiseach's 'Drumcondra Mafia'.

Mr Martin is effectively planning to dissolve the Fianna Fail organisation in Dublin Central -- once the most effective and feared political body in the country -- and take control of its assets and operation.

A motion seeking Mr Ahern's expulsion from Fianna Fail will be voted on at a meeting of the party's national executive next Friday in the wake of the damning findings of the Mahon Tribunal.

If Mr Ahern is expelled from the party, it is understood he would no longer be granted access to an FF-owned facility.

Mr Martin is also trying to get control of any bank accounts in the Dublin Central constituency, including the infamous Building Trust (B/T) account.

This account was supposed to be used for the upkeep of St Luke's, which is located right across the road from Mr Ahern's local pub, Fagan's. But the Mahon Tribunal found the B/T account was used for the personal benefit of Mr Ahern and his friend Tim Collins.

FF headquarters are also set to get access to the bank account of Mr Ahern's local cumann, Cumann O'Donovan Rossa, codenamed the CODR account.

St Luke's is legally owned by the Fianna Fail Dublin Central Constituency Trust. The trust has three members, who are Mr Ahern's close friends and members of the so-called 'Drumcondra Mafia', Mr Collins, Des Richardson and Joe Burke.

But Mr Collins and Mr Richardson are not members of Fianna Fail and Mr Burke's status in the party is unknown. Mr Martin said "a lot of evidence" was produced during the course of the tribunal concerning the handling of the affairs of the Dublin Central constituency.

"That is why we have decided to seek a formal root and branch review and restructuring of the organisation in the constituency," he said.

He said that, with the agreement of the Fianna Fail national executive, "all functions performed by officers" in Dublin Central would be transferred to the party general secretary Sean Dorgan.

Mr Martin said he would also "seek that all assets held by or on behalf of that party organisation" be transferred to party headquarters, "pending the establishment of a renewed Dublin Central organisation".

The transfer of assets is also expected to provide Fianna Fail headquarters with details of the B/T account, which featured heavily in the tribunal's investigation into Mr Ahern's finances.

The Mahon Report rejected evidence that the account operated by Mr Collins held money for the maintenance and upkeep of St Luke's.

Between 1989 and 1985, IR£66,420 was lodged to the B/T account, some of which were political donations and others of unknown origin as Mr Ahern and Mr Collins did not identify the source.

"The tribunal believed that the B/T account was operated (at least until 1997) for the personal benefit of Mr Ahern and Mr Collins," the report said.

Mr Martin said any assets or accounts in Fianna Fail Dublin Central would come under scrutiny.

"All of these issues are going to be examined and will be pursued," he said.

Fianna Fail headquarters staked a claim on ownership of St Luke's last month.

Mr Ahern still has an office in the building, where his secretary is based.

St Luke's was bought in January 1988 for IR£56,000 and turned into a constituency office, with an apartment overhead, where Mr Ahern occasionally lived.

The renovation and furnishing of the house, including the repair of a structural fault, was estimated to have cost another IR£44,000.

The late James Keane, referred to as Jimmy Keane by Mr Ahern during his tribunal evidence, was also a trustee.

The names of the four men appear on deeds lodged with the Register of Deeds in January 2000. No other documents are lodged in relation to the building.

Trustees

On the documents, Allied Irish Banks is listed as granting the mortgage for the building.

Mr Richardson, Mr Collins, Mr Burke and Mr Keane are listed "as trustees of Fianna Fail Dublin Central Constituency".

The address of the trustees is given as "C/O Suite 2, Berkeley Court Hotel, Lansdowne Road, Dublin 4" -- the room from which Mr Richardson, the former party treasurer, fundraised for Fianna Fail.

The original purchase of the house and the setting up of the trust was organised by Mr Ahern's late friend, solicitor Gerry Brennan, who died in 1997.

The building is believed to be worth more than €500,000, even in a depressed property market, but the precise control of the building was always unclear.

Fianna Fail general secretary Sean Dorgan said last month that St Luke's was owned by the party on a national level.

"The Dublin Central organisation is on record as saying that that is owned by the Fianna Fail organisation," he said last month before the party's ard fheis. "I think ultimately the Fianna Fail organisation nationally and I think they are on record as having said that."

Mr Dorgan said any buildings used by Fianna Fail locally are owned by the party.

"I think, ultimately, all property in Fianna Fail is ultimately owned by the Fianna Fail organisation, which is the Fianna Fail national organisation, ultimately. But it is held in trust for the party by local trustees," he said.

Fianna Fail councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, the only elected representative left in the constituency, has sought a report on the ownership of the property.

Irish Independent

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