Loyalists cant save Bertie
Evidence that Bertie Ahern received sums of money far exceeding his official salary in 1994 is now incontrovertible. No credible explanation has been offered for this, although his close associates, current and former, have stood loyally by him
By Vincent Browne
Fianna Fail is recidivist. Yet again it is indifferent to the accumulating evidence that its leader has lied repeatedly under oath, lied to the Dáil and lied to the Irish public, that he received maybe hundreds of thousands of pounds from undisclosed sources while Minister for Finance in the period 1992-1994 and for a while immediately afterwards, that he has doggedly obstructed a Tribunal which he has taken acclaim for establishing.
It does him credit that so many have remained loyal to him during this very public humiliation, even though the depths of the humiliation have yet to be excavated. His former partner, Celia Larkin, changed her evidence in a way that coincided with his story. His former constituency secretary, Grainne Carruth, gallantly went through a harrowing ordeal at the Tribunal, because she wanted to remain loyal to him even though she herself acknowledged she was not being believed. His array of “dig-out” friends have all sworn up to support his story of where he got such riches in 1993 and 1994. His closest buddies, Des Richardson, and Tim Collins, have put themselves on the line for him too, in a way that may cost them when the Tribunal decides on whom to award their personal legal costs.
The suggestion that Bertie would explain the lodgement of £15,500 in sterling and in cash to his building society account in 1994, by claiming that he bought sterling himself and then wanted to reconvert it back into Irish punts, is almost literally beyond belief. For he has claimed this before and in a manner that is almost infantile.
This latter explanation arose when he was asked about £30,000 sterling which surfaced in his accounts for 1995. He gave two accounts which themselves were contradictory with one another.
His explanations had to do with the house that he supposedly agreed, to rent from the Manchester businessman, Michael Wall. This is the house he lives in and now owns at Beresford Place, Drumcondra. He claims Michael Wall decided to buy this house, which he had not viewed at the time, in early December 1994, just at the time when Bertie wanted to find a permanent address for himself. He was expected to become Taoiseach on 5 December 1994, as leader of another Fianna Fail-Labour government, but this did not transpire at the time.
Michael Wall, it is claimed, arrived at St Luke's, Drumcondra (Bertie's constituency office) with £30,000 in cash and in sterling on the morning of Saturday, 2 December. Bertie gathered up all this cash and put in his safe and the following Monday, 4 December 1994, Celia Larkin took this £30,000, along with £54,000 which Bertie had in savings, and lodged them in two separate accounts in her own bank, AIB, Upper O'Connell St. The point of all this was, it is claimed, to enable Celia to oversee the refurbishment of the house that Michael Wall was to purchase and Bertie was to rent. Celia was the obvious person to undertake this for she had the skills and the time to oversee the project and choose the furnishings and décor.
Then, out of the blue in January 1995, Bertie says, he decided, without telling anyone, that it would be better if Michael Wall himself, who lived full time in Manchester, rather than Celia Larkin, would oversee the refurbishment in Dublin, including choosing the furnishings and décor and to facilitate that he took his £50,000 out of the bank and used around £30,000 of this to purchase sterling.
The explanation for converting money that was to be used in Dublin to finance the refurbishment is that Michael Wall dealt in sterling because he lived in the UK.
But then when Bertie appeared at the Tribunal in September he made an opening statement which contradicted this. He said he bought sterling because he had decided he was not going to go ahead at all with renting the house and he wanted to give back Michael Wall's £30,000.
But Michael Wall's £30,000 was in one of the accounts Celia Larkin opened on 4 December 1994. And, incidentally, Bertie did not tell Michael Wall about his change of mind, nor did he tell Celia Larkin who was then his “life partner” and with whom it was planned he would live in this house. And he changed his mind yet again some time later and was therefore left with the £30,000 sterling he had bought.
And, by the way, there was no evidence that he bought £30,000 sterling at this time and he could offer no account of how he bought this sterling or where or when.
The obvious and regrettable conclusion was/is that he got the £30,000 sterling from some undisclosed source and came up with these two contradictory and bizarre accounts as means of explaining away the source of the funds.
That he would now contemplate a similar explanation for this further £15,500 sterling – ie that he purchased this £15,000 sterling himself for a purpose that later became defunct – is almost beyond belief. Quite apart from the difficulty he would have in showing where and how and when he purchased £15,500 sterling.
The whole story he has offered from that interview with RTE in September 2006, is now disintegrating.
It is simply not credible that he had £54,000 in savings in cash at the end of 1993, savings which he said he accumulated from the time of his marriage separation in 1987, during which time he was making payments to his estranged wife and family or around £18,000 a year from his net income.
The incredulity surrounding the £54,000 savings arises not just from the difficulty he would have had in accumulating that amount during a time of financial difficulty for him, but because of the so called “dig out” at Christmas 1993. We are invited to believe that the solicitor who represented him during the course of his marriage litigation, the late Gerry Brennan, and who therefore would have known of the £54,000 savings, if it existed, was so concerned about his financial predicament that he arranged gifts/loans of £22,000 from friends to pay legal costs of £17,000.
There is then the fact that although he lodged £22,000 gift/loan three days after he received it, he omitted to lodge at the same time any of the £54,000 cash savings he claims to have had, most of it in the same safe in which he kept the £22,000 for the few days from 27 to 30 December 1993. Indeed the £54,000 savings was lodged only in dribs and drabs over the coming months, which itself is very curious, especially given the very high interest rates deposits were earning at the time.
Regrettably, the £54,000 cash savings claim is not believable. He got this money or most of it from some other source, while he was Minister for Finance in 1994.
There is then the problem with the claimed further dig out of £16,000 and the £8,000 Manchester “dig out” in October 1994. These monies when lodged in the bank came to an even equivalent of £25,000 sterling. Again, there are suspicions about the real source of this finance.
And now the bank society accounts. The discovery of the £5,000 cheque from Davy's Stockbrokers, in his own building society account, £5,000 clearly intended for an election campaign fund revives questions about where monies intended for Fianna fail went to
There are further difficulties.
The £30,000 taken from the B/T account that resulted in a house being purchased by Celia Larkin and on which she has made a handsome capital gain, raises questions about this B/T account itself and about the claim by Bertie Ahern that he knew nothing about it, even though he was living with Celia Larkin at the time.
This B/T account was the recipient of further funds and the suspicion is that this was another account opened for Bertie Ahern into which funds were diverted.
But back to Celia Larkin's helpfulness in her evidence. She first told the Tribunal in private session that she obtained the Michael Wall £30,000 in a briefcase in the office of the late solicitor, Gerry Brennan, on the morning of the day she lodged the monies, Monday, 4 December 1994. She then had no recollection of seeing mounds of cash on a table in St Luke's the previous Saturday. But it was important that she saw the cash on that previous Saturday for otherwise she would not have been able to testify that this was present when the monies were handed over by Michael Wall.
Celia Larkin's ordeal is not over. She will return to the witness box some time in May, probably before Bertie Ahern returns to give evidence. And she will be back again in the autumn when the module dealing with the Beresford Place house commences.
By then the Tribunal may be less fascinating for its fascination now is that the target is a sitting Taoiseach.