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Bertie's loyal lady ties herself in knots but is not for turning

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Tribunal counsel Des O'Neill (left) and Henry Murphy, SC, arriving at the Mahon Tribunal in Dublin Castle yesterday

Tribunal counsel Des O'Neill (left) and Henry Murphy, SC, arriving at the Mahon Tribunal in Dublin Castle yesterday

Tribunal counsel Des O'Neill (left) and Henry Murphy, SC, arriving at the Mahon Tribunal in Dublin Castle yesterday

"I shook for two hours," the visibly upset woman said softly from the witness box at the Mahon Tribunal yesterday afternoon. It was a rare moment of human vulnerability in a day which had largely been dominated by number-crunching.

The morning session had seen the tribunal's legal team painstakingly analyse a series of transactions which took place in the Irish Permanent Building Society in Drumcondra in 1994.

It was a bank that Grainne Carruth was familiar with. She had been Bertie's secretary in his constituency office, St Luke's, for 12 years -- from 1987 to 1999.

Bertie obviously trusted her -- Grainne was the only person in the organisation to whom he assigned the task of lodging money into the accounts of his two daughters, Georgina and Cecelia, in the Irish Permanent Building Society.

Sterling

Blair Hughes, who was manager of the branch in the early 1990s, remembers the trim brunette coming into the bank to make lodgments.

And Mr Hughes also remembered something else. "I formed the impression that some of the lodgments were sterling," he said. But Grainne was adamant that she had never, ever dealt with sterling. She doggedly stuck to her guns on this issue, as she had in her previous evidence last December, even though all the number-crunching during the morning session indicated that several lodgments to the accounts of Bertie and his two daughters were immediately preceded by sterling purchases.

Des O'Neill, senior counsel for the tribunal, carefully took her through several transactions. There was one on March 9 1994 when stg£4,000 was purchased for IR£4,119, followed by two separate sterling purchases of stg£1,000 for IR£1,028.40.

These were immediately followed by three lodgments in Irish pounds; one of IR£4,119.99, to Bertie's bank account, and two of IR£1,028.40, to the accounts of Georgina and Cecelia Ahern. Two of the lodgment slips bore the name of Grainne Carruth. However, it wasn't so clear-cut, according to Grainne.

Repeatedly she insisted, "I have no recollections of any dealings with sterling whatsoever".

Des O'Neill persisted, pointing to her name on several lodgment slips.

"I don't know. It was 14 years ago. My name is on the documentation," she said.

Judge Mary Faherty interrupted at one juncture and pointed out the improbability of someone else converting the money to sterling, then Grainne "stepping in" to make a lodgment, then "stepping out again" to allow a second sterling transaction to go ahead, before she "stepped back in again", like some sort of financial "Lanigan's Ball" dance sequence.

"It seems completely illogical, Ms Carruth," suggested Judge Faherty. "Yes Judge," admitted a tearful Grainne.

Head bowed, she accepted that some of the statements in her previous evidence were "incorrect", but she adamantly refused to admit she had dealt with sterling.

Des O'Neill pointed out that she could hardly have forgotten she was dealing with "huge sums of money" -- more than stg£15,500 lodged over an eight-month period. And they would have been huge sums to Bertie's secretary, who was taking home a meagre salary of IR£67 each week.

"I have searched and tried to think since this came into my home. I can't recollect," she said, with a hint of desperation.

Des O'Neill wanted to know how she felt when she saw all the bank documentation detailing the transactions and bearing her name.

Surprised

"I shook for two hours. I was very surprised," she said softly. It was about the only revealing thing she said all afternoon.

She may have left St Luke's nine years ago, but time hasn't dimmed her unwavering loyalty to the man she referred to on the stand as "Bertie". But as she tied herself in knots in an effort not to land her old boss in any sort of pickle, the money-tangle continued to unravel.

Nor did her loyalty impress the tribunal's chairman, who ordered her to return to the stand today. He waved a legal yellow card at her, suggesting she "reflect" on her evidence.

Looking a little dazed, she climbed from the stand. Earlier Judge Keys had declared: "All we want is the truth". But yesterday, Grainne had mapped out her own path of righteousness, and, despite the tribunal's best efforts, this oh-so loyal lady wasn't for turning.