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Lise Hand: It arrived without fanfare but the results were explosive

IT didn't arrive amid a burst of screaming fireworks or a rousing blast of martial music.

Instead, just before 10am yesterday, the final chapter of a 15-year saga slipped quietly on to the planning tribunal website.

But it was explosive, nonetheless. A 3,270-page hand-grenade which blew Bertie sky-high and detonated for once and forever his intricately woven web of deceit and untruths and delusion.

"How bad will it be for Bertie?" That was the question being quietly asked along the corridors of Leinster House early yesterday, as the final minutes ticked down to the unleashing of the Mahon Tribunal's final report.

And when the answer came, it was quickly clear that it was bad. Very bad indeed.

The one piece of good news for Bertie was that the tribunal found no conclusive evidence that he was corrupt or in receipt of corrupt payments.

And he can cling to that single rock as the hard words crash down upon him. For the Tribunal Troika believed little else which tumbled from Bertie's lips -- time and again throughout the report they poured terse legal scorn over of his tortured, baroque explications about dig-outs and bank accounts and home ownership.

Untruths, untruths, untruths.

But Bertie is still box-office. Though as a villain rather than a hero, now. By 10.05am, the tribunal website had crashed, felled by the avalanche of people avid for the details.

The air in Leinster House was filled with muttered imprecations of politicians and media furiously trying to access the damning document.

Nobody on either side of the political divide had time to digest more than a couple of nibbles of the Report before Leaders' Questions kicked off at 10.30am. And so it hung like a decaying, rotten elephant in the room, as the few younger members of Fianna Fail who were in the chamber tried to ignore the smell.

But the forlorn few looked grim and angry, and almost by reflex began to roar furiously when the Tanaiste threw a tentative punch. It was remarkable, said Eamon Gilmore, that on the day Mahon was published, all Fianna Fail would discuss was the matter of disability allowances.

It wasn't one of the Old Guard, but younger soldier, Senator Thomas Byrne, who was sent out into the fray. He began the carefully choreographed process of forsaking Bertie. When asked did he accept analysis of report that Bertie effectively lied, he didn't hesitate. "Yes, absolutely, there's no getting away from that," he said. "The findings are extremely serious for Mr Ahern."

At 1pm the Taoiseach was swamped by a media scrum.

But for yesterday at least, Bertie was the central player. Enda didn't really let fly, even when questioned about the stain which Bertie's behaviour has left on the office of Taoiseach.

"I think that's a question that doesn't even need an answer -- it speaks for itself, it speaks for itself," he first replied. But when pressed, he described the findings as "a litany of unacceptable statements from the former Taoiseach".

Then someone reminded him of what may have been one of his lowest points as leader of the opposition, back in February 2008.

Enda was trying to engage Taoiseach Brian Cowen on the thorny subject of the tribunal, when Brian hurled a cruel put-down. "His evidence will be decided upon by judges, not by you," he sneered. Enda was silent.

But Enda refused to be drawn into revenge.

But Brian's insult was a stark example of the sort of arrogance that permeated politics. It was an arrogance that warped decency and encouraged greed, which turned small-time chisellers into hustlers who swaggered about with For Sale signs on their heads and pound-signs in their eyes.

The second paragraph of the Mahon Report says it all. It recounts how "Corruption in Irish politics was both endemic and systematic. . . those involved operated with a justified sense of invincibility and impunity".

They were The Invincibles. And their cloak of invincibility embraced not just politicians and fixers, but also bankers and developers and greed-heads of every stripe.

It led to hubris-filled construction projects, funded by feckless bankers. It led to a blind belief that the good times couldn't end. For everyone was Invincible.

The tribunal was born in 1997 -- the same year that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern pledged: "We will write new ethics standards and independent enforcement into the law of the land."

Just another untruth, echoing down all the days.

Irish Independent