The House Purchase

Celia Larkin, whose bank account details have been sought by the Mahon tribunal, was among the first people to view the house after it was put on sale through auctioneers Sherry Fitzgerald in late 1994. Informed property sources have confirmed that Sherry FitzGerald handled the sale in 1995.
By Frank Connolly
Celia Larkin, Bertie Ahern's former partner, viewed the house at 44 Beresford Avenue, Drumcondra with Manchester businessman, Micheál Wall, before he purchased it in 1995 and two years before he sold it on to Bertie Ahern. It has also emerged that in 1997, just as he was purchasing the house, Bertie Ahern stated that when he had rented the house in 1995 he did so “with an option to purchase”.

Celia Larkin, whose bank account details have been sought by the Mahon tribunal, was among the first people to view the house after it was put on sale through auctioneers Sherry Fitzgerald in late 1994. Informed property sources have confirmed that Sherry FitzGerald handled the sale in 1995.

Sherry FitzGerald refused to confirm or deny this to Village.

The property went on sale at the end of 1994, when the then owners, Brian and Marie Byrne, decided to sell. They had bought the house from Durkan estates Ltd in 1991.

On the basis of this information, it seems therefore that Bertie Ahern and his then partner were interested in the house before it was purchased by Micheál Wall.

Ahern has given conflicting accounts of the price he paid for the house. To his biographers Ken Whelan and Eugene Masterson in 1998 he said he had bought the house for £139,000. However, he said in the Dáil on 10 October 2006 that he paid £180,000.

The disclosure of an “option to purchase” the house in 1995 raises the question as to whether the sale price was agreed at that time (otherwise it is unclear what the “option to purchase” meant).

The disclosure of an “option to purchase” was made in a statement to Vincent Browne, now editor of Village, then editor of Magill. The disclosure was made in the course of an official letter on behalf of the Taoiseach from the Taoiseach's Department dated 22 August 1997. The relevant part of the letter read:

“In 1995, Mr Ahern rented, with an option to purchase, a house in the Drumcondra area. His occupancy of this house was subject to a written tenancy agreement which provided for the payment of rent at full market value with yearly rent reviews, which were exercised. Subsequently, the option to purchase was exercised for a purchase price advised by Gunne Auctioneers to both vendor and purchaser as being the full open market value. Mr Ahern and his partner currently reside in this house.”

In that letter it was said that the market value of the property was determined in 1997 by Gunne Estate Agents, which had been owned by one of Bertie Ahern's donors, the late Fintan Gunne – Gunne died just at the time that the purchase of the house was going through. Gunne Estate Agents say they have no record of any involvement in the property at any stage.

It is not clear why an independent valuation of the property would have been necessary in 1997 if there had been an option to purchase given in 1995. Nor is it clear how the price of the property could have escalated in the two years by 35 per cent, as Bertie Ahern has claimed, if the price had been determined in 1995 on giving the option to purchase (again, it is not evident what meaning the option to purchase would have had if there had not been an agreement on the purchase price at the time the option was given).

According to property-industry sources, Ahern's house was first viewed by the late solicitor Gerry Brennan, who acted for Micheál Wall in the purchase of the four-bedroomed semi-detached house off Griffith Avenue in north Dublin.

Soon after Gerry Brennan viewed the house, Celia Larkin arrived to examine the property with Wall, who lived in Manchester at the time and almost immediately offered to buy it for £138,000. Wall paid a deposit of several thousand pounds to secure his offer for the property.

According to informed property sources, the sale was not completed until the spring of 1995 some months after he first viewed it with Larkin.

Ahern and his partner moved into the house as soon as the sale was completed.

As stated, Ahern told the two journalists who were writing his authorised biography, which was published in 1998, that he paid £139,000 for the house in 1997 and that he had taken out a mortgage of £100,000 with the Irish Permanent Building Society for the house purchase.  

Registry of Deeds documents show that a mortgage with Irish Permanent was registered just three months after he purchased the property on 31 October 1997.

The memorial of an indenture of assignment shows Wall as the vendor and Bartholomew Patrick Ahern as purchaser, while the solicitors acting in the sale were Dublin firm Gerrard Scallan & O'Brien. According to the documents the memorial of indenture of mortgage was made on 28 November 1997.

The deeds were witnessed by solicitor David Anderson on 14 January 1998. There are no details of the value of the mortgage in the documents obtained by Village from the Registry of Deeds. Ahern has said he raised a mortgage of £100,000 from Irish Permanent Building Society, the name of which appears on the documents provided by the Registry of Deeds.

Bertie Ahern has not explained how he raised the deposit or the balance of the money (£39,000 or £80,000 depending on which of the two figures he has provided is correct), although he said he took the money from a savings account that he had with the building society. Bertie Ahern has also said that his former solicitor, Gerry Brennan, raised almost £22,500 in 1993 from a  group of friends and that Joe Burke raised another £16,500 in October 1994 from four donors, making a total of exactly £39,000.

It is reported elsewhere that the tribunal has summoned Celia Larkin to private hearings to establish any links between accounts she has held with Irish or foreign financial institutions and monies raised by Bertie Ahern. It is believed that Celia Larkin cashed Bertie Ahern's pay cheques on a bi-weekly basis while he was Minister for Finance between 1992 and 1994, during a period when he says he had no bank account.

Bertie Ahern has said publicly that he lodged two substantial payments of £16,5000 obtained from the four Dublin friends in October 1994 and the stg£8000 raised at a function in Manchester in October 1994 in AIB O'Connell Street. He also saved £50,000, which was lodged to his account during 1994 along with the £22,500 raised by solicitor Gerry Brennan at Christmas 1993.

It has also been reported elsewhere that Ahern has said Larkin helped him move into the house in 1995 and also had the foresight to engage an interior design company to decorate the home before he purchased it from Wall in late 1997.

Again the expenditure on the decoration of the house would suggest there had been a prior agreement on the purchase price.

When contacted by Village on 11 October Celia Larkin refused to comment.