THE waiting game finally ended today as the Mahon tribunal published its final report. €250 million later and endless column inches devoted to debating its rights and wrongs the end result must surely be spectacular?
The publication mirrored the tribunal itself, the document is large and cumbersome, the tribunal amazingly failed to predict the interest in it and downloading it became the best example yet of Irelands underinvestment in broadband infrastructure.
Like all tribunal reports that have gone before there is a little something in this report for everyone. All sides can argue as to what the outcome is and too much of it is not definitive to satisfy a debate that has raged for so long and at such expense. However, some things were very clear. The tribunal finds that Liam Lawlor ‘corruptly’ sought a donation. It also finds that Padraig Flynn ‘corruptly’ sought a donation. Those are the kind of damning findings that most people wanted to see.
While not making any particular finding on the issue it is also clear that the tribunal found Fianna Fail’s upper echelons, HQ, and even its leadership to have woefully inadequate structures in place in dealing with donations or following up on them to avoid individuals pocketing them. It paints a picture of a labyrinthine set of people passing the buck and all afraid to demand answers as to what happened the money.
Fianna Fail may have to consider what its approach is to Padraig Flynn before it decides on Bertie Ahern. It is of course Ahern that everyone is interested in. The tribunal pretty much tells us that they don’t believe Bertie. They suggest his answers were ‘untruthful’ when it comes to explaining the source of the figures under investigation. That’s not something to be taken lightly but in the legal word it also amounts to dancing around with language.
During the time of the beef tribunal the word ‘untruthful’ was used but people lived with it, when the word ‘dishonest’ was used the government fell. It is this use of words that frustrates people. It points to the tribunal feeling that while they did not get a satisfactory explanation from Ahern, whatever he was doing it was not part of their investigation. Crucially, unlike Flynn or Lawlor, the tribunal does not find Bertie Ahern guilty of soliciting ‘corrupt’ payments or of accepting bribes.
This is in marked contrast to Flynn and Lawlor and indeed Burke in the past. While the tribunal has no problem making a definite finding against them it feels it cannot do so on Ahern.
In short the tribunal report leaves us no better off on the issue of Bertie Ahern and his finances. His opponents will point to the finding of untruthful answers and say that Bertie simply cannot be trusted, his supporters will point out that no finding of corruption or bribery was made and that he is an innocent man and all the tribunal has done is add to ‘opinion’ on whether you believe Bertie or not.
The tribunal also uncovers much more as regards planning and donations among councillors in Dublin. However, for most the question will be to watch what Fianna Fail does next. Micheál Martin knows that he can take action against Padraig Flynn if he so wishes, the tribunal has given him the opportunity.
Bertie poses a different problem. On the surface the idea that he was not truthful in his answers might be grounds for his expulsion. However, that could open a can of worms for the party as regards every answer ever given that someone believes was untruthful. Should Dermot Ahern be expelled for saying negotiations had not started with the EU/IMF? Should Micheál Martin be expelled for saying waiting lists could be ended, or for supporting Ahern in the past while he gave evidence?
That may all seem a bit trite to some but Bertie Ahern has supporters who will argue that since the tribunal has not fond a wrongdoing that the party cannot act on opinion.
It would have been much better for FF if Ahern had been found guilty of a corrupt payment too.
None the less the party has known this was coming and perhaps the simplest solution is not to expel Bertie Ahern but for a quiet chat, a request that he resign from the Fianna Fail party and that they accept his resignation allowing both sides to walk away from each other without too much legal debate.
Bertie was once the great negotiator, FF now needs a negotiator. On the other hand if no solution is found then an expulsion of Bertie Ahern will be demanded by some and Fianna Fail will be forced to react, but the outcome of that will have far reaching consequences.