Bertiegate: It gets even worse

Analysis of Bertie Ahern's contributions to Dáil exchanges on Tuesday 3 October about donations made to him while he was Minister for Finance. By Vincent Browne.

"I put into the public domain that I received a contribution arising from a function in Manchester. I publicly disclosed this payment in order that the full facts relating to all payments made to me during a difficult personal and family time would be available to the public."

Maybe. But he must also have had in mind that the planning tribunal was likely to disclose all this anyway, perhaps before the general election.

"[Tim] Kilroe [the owner of the Four Seasons Hotel in Manchester, where the function at which Ahern got £8000 took place] has since died and it is not possible to obtain any list of attendees or contributors at this remove, 12 years later."

In a later part of his speech he said 35 people had phoned in saying they were at the function. Would it not be possible to check with them that they were indeed at the function in question and whether they had made a contribution?

"I did not even deliver a formal speech. I merely said a few words and engaged in an informal question-and-answer session."

Were he not Minister for Finance would he have "said a few words" or "engaged in an informal question-and-answer session"? The fact that he did shows clearly he was there not in a personal capacity but as Minister for Finance and, as such, accepted £8,000 in clear breach of the guidelines concerning ministerial conduct that were applicable in 1994.

"If I had anticipated in 1993 and 1994 that my decision to accept loans from friends or the gifts of monies in Manchester would cause such difficulties and media intrusion for my family and friends and would give rise to distortion of my motives and misrepresentation of my conduct, I would not have accepted a penny. As I surveyed events of the past two weeks, I realised that my judgment in accepting help from good and loyal friends and the gift in Manchester, albeit in the context of personal and family circumstances, was an error. It was a misjudgment, although not in breach of any law or code of conduct at the time. It was not illegal or impermissible to have done what I did but I now regret the choices I made in those difficult and dark times. The bewilderment caused to the public about recent revelations has been deeply upsetting for me and others near and dear to me. To them, to the Irish people and to this House, I offer my apologies."

So his apologies were not for having done anything wrong but because of the "difficulties" and "media intrusion" that resulted and for the public bewilderment and upset caused to himself and those near and dear to him.

"I actually lodged [the Manchester £8,000] on the same lodgement as the £16,500 and it was related to exactly the same period and the same issue."

This is extraordinary. So the £16,500, which came from "friends" came around October 1994, not in early 1994 as was earlier assumed. Why would friends have thought Bertie Ahern was in need of financial assistance at this time, a year after his marital separation? He was earning a healthy income as Minister for Finance. He had paid whatever he had needed to pay a year earlier in connection with the marital separation. He was able to negotiate a mortgage for the purchase of a new home. He had had almost no personal expenditure for some time previously – he was driven around at public expense, he was staying either at St Luke's in Drumcondra, where he paid little or no rent, or was staying with his partner at the time (incidentally, he later said he declares the "rent" of St Luke's as his constituency office but that the property "has nothing else to do with me". He lived there for several years, the property was acquired by "friends" to assist him at a time when he did not have another home, although it is not registered as the property of Fianna Fáil. So the claims that the monies he received in or around October 1994, amounting to almost £25,000 (almost €32,000), a year after his marriage separation, were given to him because of his "difficult" position at the time is difficult to understand.

"The issue of savings arose [in his TV interview] because of completeness. When I was giving the interview I gave the facts. There was no lump sum of £50,000 but in my accounts and when I answered all my questions I showed where all my money came from in the period so that I could deny the issues I was being asked to answer which got lost in all these issues".

This passage from his Dáil answers is difficult to understand but what he certainly conveyed was that the £50,000 savings which, allegedly, he had made in the period from 1986 to 1993 was not deposited in one lump sum in the bank account he opened in late 1993 or early 1994. The question arises why, if this was a lump-sum saving from the previous period, was it not lodged as a lump sum in the bank account he opened?

As an aside, it would be interesting to know how he explained this £50,000 to the planning tribunal. Did he immediately offer the explanation that the £50,000 was savings from a period during which he had no bank account for his personal use?