Johnny Fallon: Mahon told us nothing we didn’t know about Bertie, so why did FF wait until now to banish him?
FIANNA Fail move to expel Bertie Ahern. A simple sentence but one that shows just how far Bertie Ahern has fallen. In his statement last night he suggested that he had done nothing to demean the office he held, a sad effort, when it is clear to anyone that he did exactly that. He will find few friends out there this morning, the world is a changed place from the forgiving days of the Celtic Tiger. While people struggle to pay bills and watch their own dignity stripped away on dole queues and in the shape of threatening letters, it’s hard to understand anyone doing what Bertie Ahern did and not feeling utterly ashamed.
Fianna Fail is now set to cut him loose. Yesterday I suggested that they might consider expelling the councillors and Padraig Flynn while asking Bertie Ahern to resign and only considering expulsion on foot of his response. I know some took this as a defence of Bertie Ahern. It was not. It was more a recognition that FF has a serious problem on this issue and cannot expect it to go away with just one action. The straight expulsion is decisive and probably the right thing, but it now raises further questions that must be asked. The time for ignoring questions is over. The Mahon Tribunal report is a litany of allegations that were not followed up, questions that were silenced and people being told not to be foolish or awkward.
So let us examine exactly why the expulsion now raises further questions. Starting with the Tribunal report itself, there was much good work contained therein. Under each finding certain evidence was discounted while other evidence accepted in an effort to uncover the truth and in doing so painting a picture of a rancid and sick system.
The chapter on Bertie Ahern was an immense disappointment, however. The Tribunal made two key findings; first that it did not believe what Bertie Ahern said, and second, that it could not find any evidence of corrupt payments or bribery. In my mind one simply cannot follow the other. The tribunal rejects Ahern's evidence out of hand, but then fails to outline what it does believe happened, it fails to find other witnesses, or another version of events that it can believe. This is remarkable for a Tribunal given so much power. Those investigating were highly paid, they were asked by the taxpayer to do a job and in my opinion they failed.
It is surely not enough to say you don’t believe Ahern but then shrug your shoulders and say that’s all you can do. Moreover, if you don’t believe Ahern then you don’t know where he got the money from so how can you suggest there is no evidence of corruption, or bribery, when you don’t know, or have even a theory, on who or what is giving him money?
In this instance the tribunal failed.
Now onto Fianna Fail. The problem with their position now is that Mahon did not produce anything new on Ahern. With regard to the local councillors and on Padraig Flynn, where the word corrupt was used and where the evidence was balanced against various testimony, then it is fair to say that this finding was new and indeed has a strong legal basis. But with Ahern, there were many who did not believe his story before now, there were many who said that their opinion was that he was lying. Judge Mahon merely added his opinion to this. He did not give any new evidence that backed it up from what was known.
So how can FF claim that this changes everything? Surely Ahern should have been expelled and the decisive action taken a long time ago? How can senior figures justify their stance in 2007 and 2008 when they happily backed Ahern and said his evidence was ‘understandable’? How can they have believed him then but not now? What is the basis for such decisive changes?
Everything we know today was known then and plenty of people said that Ahern was not telling the truth, but FF said that would have to be proven, clearly today it does not. That makes it smack of political expediency. An exercise to put the matter to rest. While Bertie was popular we believed him, but now that the tables have turned, presented with the same evidence we don’t believe him either. Had FF shown more of a desire to investigate Ahern themselves and demand answers before tabling an expulsion order the might have been able to claim this was something more than trying to just show a new face.
Ahern will, of course, protest his innocence. The people will not forgive him so readily. It is a grubby end to his career. His statement said he should have paid more attention to his personal finances. Damn right. He was the Minister for Finance, taking money from any other source that was not transparent and taxable was an action that even a schoolchild could tell was wrong.
Mahon lays before us a period that politics should be ashamed of. A period when personal enrichment took precedence over people and service. A time when politics was not only all about money but also about the display of money, how wealthy you were, how much you owned or could buy. This won you friends and respect. A macho era that can never be allowed to surface again. More importantly, we know that there were good people in Fianna Fail and Fine Gael and other parties, but they allowed themselves be silenced. Criticism was disloyalty, believing the ‘stories’ was akin to being a dissident. The good people did nothing, they turned a blind eye and threw their hands up.
Never again must an allegation or doubt be dismissed so easily, never again must questions be avoided and cloaks of protection wrapped around leaders or prominent politicians no matter how good they appear to anyone or how deep a friendship may run.
Politicians accepting payments is a sickening practice beyond contempt and we should not rest until it is eradicated forever. We should not rest on our laurels believing it to be only a Dublin problem either and Mahon should instead be the opening of a door to a new wariness and willingness to ask questions right across the country. Because what these politicians did was to subvert democracy, to abuse their office and to live off the backs of ordinary people who were trying to make an economy and system work.
Back in 1992 a famous FF selection convention took place in Ballyleague Co. Roscommon. It went on until 5 a.m. I was 16 at the time and Padraig Flynn was chairing the convention. Just after midnight my mother decided it was time to get some chips, I was delegated with the task of the long walk to the chipper to buy them. I took an order from the entire top table including Pee Flynn. It was my mother gave me the money, no other offers were made. Walking outside Albert Reynolds was catching up on some sleep in his car, I knocked on the window and asked him if he wanted anything. He declined but I said it was ok I was getting them for Flynn and the boys anyway.
He laughed and said ‘No no thanks. Who’s paying?’ I said my mother. Reynolds reached into his pocket and took out the money, ‘Here tell your mother not to be spending her money.’ I went off and bought the chips, and in the event of future tribunals I should declare there was about a fiver change but Reynolds did not seek it back, and I used it to bring a girl out for a milkshake the following week.
What Flynn did with the IR£50k is another matter, but such are the differences between the top and bottom in politics.