Albert would not have let Bertie keep Manchester money

Guidelines state the then Taoiseach should have been consulted about the payment. By Frank Connolly
Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds has said that he would not have granted permission to Bertie Ahern to keep the gift he received at the Manchester function in 1994 if he had been consulted by his former finance minister.

Under cabinet guidelines, introduced in 1983, any member of cabinet who receives an expensive gift should consult the Taoiseach if there is any doubt about its propriety.

"I don't recall anyone coming to me over any such gift. If they had come to me I would not have given permission for it to be kept," Reynolds told Village.

The 1983 guidelines state: "The practice has been for ministers... to accept relatively inexpensive gifts to mark occasions such as official openings, etc and not to accept expensive gifts... Any gift of national significance should be regarded as the property of the nation and dealt with accordingly. The Taoiseach should be consulted in any case of doubt."

Reynolds also said the notion of any minister, in particular the Minister for Finance, traveling to a foreign destination and speaking about Irish economic matters for a fee was totally wrong. "If any minister, particularly the Minister for Finance, had approached me and asked me for permission to speak abroad and accept personal payment, I would have absolutely refused," he said.

The former Taoiseach said he did not wish to become embroiled in the current controversy, but was clearly surprised at the revelation over the payment of £8,000 received by his then Minister for Finance in September 1994.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny has questioned Ahern's claim that he spoke at the Manchester meeting in a private capacity.

"He told Brian Dobson on RTÉ that he met a business organisation in Manchester, spoke about the Irish economy, took questions and answers, and that he was given a gift of stg£8,000. He wasn't invited to speak because he was Bertie Ahern from Drumcondra. His friend David McKenna, a successful businessman, was there so why wasn't he asked to speak?" a spokesman for Kenny told Village.

Bertie Ahern has given conflicting accounts of how the Manchester money was collected. In his interview in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan on 28 September he said the friends accompanying him from Dublin collected the money, while he told the Dáil on 3 October the money was collected by one of the Manchester businessmen.

Ahern is also facing enquiries over his claim that he saved £50,000 between 1987 and 1993, when he also says he had no bank account. It is certain the planning tribunal would have instituted enquiries into the origin of this sum, given the allegations about payments from Owen O'Callaghan, which Ahern and O'Callaghan have denied. Village has learned that the Flood, now Mahon, tribunal first contacted Ahern in autumn 1998 in relation to an allegation he received two payments of £50,000 and £30,000, in 1989 and 1992/93, from developer Owen O'Callaghan.

Questions also arise about the level of cooperation that Ahern displayed vis-à-vis the planning tribunal. If he was as evasive and confused in his answers to the tribunal as he has been to the Dáil and the media, this must have caused difficulties. It will be critical to discover how he initially explained the £50,000 alleged savings to the tribunal when they asked him about lodgments to the account he opened in 1994.

Also it will be crucial to discover whether he was immediately forthcoming about the monies he received from friends and from the Manchester group.
He told the Dáil on Tuesday 4 October that he saved the £50,000 between 1987 and 1993 and that he had kept it in his "possession" rather than in any bank account.