| 14.7°C Dublin

Yes, Taoiseach, it is very much our business . . .


ON the contrary, Taoiseach, it is plenty of our damn business. We need to know whether the office of An Taoiseach translates, with depressing regularity, into: "On Take Shock".

The Mahon Tribunal uncovered a series of monster lodgements into Bertie Ahern's accounts, or accounts administered for his benefit, between December 1993 and the end of 1995.

The total involved appears to be more than €300,000 at current values.

The Taoiseach has yet to explain them, despite bleating, or alternatively snapping, about his marriage separation in 1987.

None of the dig-out stories convincingly hold any water -- and there are no bank withdrawals to back up any of them. Evidentially, they might as well never have happened, for if they happened (a huge 'If'), they did so without a trace.

Which is why it is absolutely noteworthy, as the tribunal patiently established yesterday, that these "close personal friends" of the Taoiseach were exceptionally tardy in riding to his financial rescue.

Mr Ahern told the tribunal yesterday he had separated in the months preceding his appointment as Minister for Labour in March 1987.

His immediate circle of friends knew of his separation, which appears to have happened just before the beginning of 1987, the Taoiseach agreed.

Thus two groups of his friends waited nearly another seven years (December 1993) in one case, and nearly another eight years (September 1994) in another, before being separately and independently seized on the idea that they should do something to help him financially. The same thought occurred to a group of Manchester men, miraculously.

And all three groups, in the space of a year, concluded independently that they should all shower the Minister for Finance with cash -- recordless, untraceable, wonderful cash. The knowledge that he had separated spread outwards from his close friends in 1987, Mr Ahern agreed. He did not receive any financial dig-out or contribution at that particular time. "No," confirmed Bertie shortly.

Nobody offered in 1987 any money to provide him with another dwelling house, even though they knew that he had nowhere to live at the time.

Yet these were the same friends, with two or three exceptions (David McKenna and Barry English) who allegedly made donations to the Taoiseach in 1993 and 1994.

Yet in 1987 he was already friends with Des Richardson, Gerry Brennan, Fintan Gunne, Mick Collins (now living in Australia; has not given evidence to the tribunal), Charlie Chawke, Paddy Reilly the Butcher -- all members of the first alleged "dig-out" band of December 1993.

None of them proposed at the time that they would make any financial contribution to our poor bedraggled Bertie. And of course three of the four Beaumont House "friends" are in the same boat -- Dermot Carew, Paddy 'The Plasterer' Reilly and Joe Burke all knowing Mr Ahern for many years prior to 1987.

Yesterday the tribunal, having previously suggested that no friendly dig-outs may ever have happened, went a step further.

For the first time it made suggestions, infuriating to the Taoiseach, which could give rise to a belief the Taoiseach did not have huge personal savings of £50,000-plus at the end of 1993.

If this "fanciful, elaborate hypothesis", in the words of Mr Ahern's senior counsel, were true, it would mean that more of the huge lodgements could not be saved as they could not be funded from savings -- and necessarily must have come from elsewhere.

Remember Mr Ahern's version is that he saved more than £50,000 while separated. The Taoiseach, we know, operated no bank accounts at all between 1987 and 1993, but at the latter end of that year began to lodge three times his net income at the time, including more than IR£50,000.

The two "goodwill loans" raised thereafter -- by the account of Bertie and pals -- came to IR£39,000, in addition to around Stg£8,000 allegedly collected at a Manchester dinner at an obscure date in 1994. Lots of money, and long after he really needed it.

Since he was saving cash, Mr Ahern had to agree that it could be the case that one of the first IR£50 notes he kept in 1987 could have been finally lodged seven years later. But the banknotes themselves changed during this period.

Bertie had no memory of there being notes in different forms. As Minister for Finance, he launched the new notes, and it "could have" prompted him to update his savings, although the old notes remained legal tender. "I could well have done."

He knew he was foregoing any interest that could be had in a bank.

"As I am sure you know, interest rates were particularly high when you first took ministerial office in 1987 and later on, in 1992 and 1993," purred tribunal counsel Des O'Neill, referring latterly to the currency crisis.

During the crisis one could get 19.5pc interest rates on overnight deposits, Ahern agreed, or "even higher." The Minister for Finance did not avail of them -- or give any consideration to any form of a savings plan which could maximise his legitimate returns.

Yet his later banking history shows considerable signs of bank transfers for optimum returns. The mystery deepens ...