The pervasive cynicism of Irish politics

It wasn't just Fianna Fáil who didn't want to confront Bertie Ahern on his finances back in 2007. By Vincent Browne.

We knew before the 2007 general election that Bertie Ahern's explanations for the tens of thousands of pounds sloshing through his bank accounts, the steel safes in St Luke's and in his ministerial office at the Department of Finance, and his then partner Celia Larkin's own accounts were lies. We knew that the stories of the house at 44 Beresford Avenue, Drumcondra, were lies. We knew the "digout" stories were untruths.

Take the first of the digouts, the €22,500 given to him after Christmas in 1993, a few months after his marriage separation agreement had gone through the courts.

We were asked to believe that his solicitor, the late Gerry Brennan, who acted for him in the separation proceedings, went around Ahern's friends, telling them that Ahern needed cash to pay his legal bills in connection with the separation, all in the knowledge that Ahern had already arranged a bank loan to pay those fees and anyway had £54,000 in cash under his bed (or somewhere). We were asked to believe that this solicitor asked for funds for Ahern to pay him.

As for the house story, I challenged Ahern about this at the launch of the Fianna Fáil manifesto at the beginning of the 2007 election campaign, so this is not hindsight.

I put it to him that the claim that he was planning to invest €50,000 in the renovation of a relatively new house, which he was about to rent, wasn't believable. I should have added the further bizarre twist that his Manchester mate, Micheál Wall, claimed he had agreed to buy the house and Ahern had agreed to rent the house before either of them even had seen it.

So, here we had as much evidence as we needed that Ahern had been up to very suspicious transactions while he was Minister for Finance.

Then (in May 2007) he was seeking re-election as taoiseach at a time when he was clearly telling lies about his finances - and nobody in the political establishment thought there was anything even worth mentioning about that.

Then, and subsequently, Fianna Fáil ministers such as Micheál Martin and Willie O'Dea professed to believe what nobody else did, and said the question of the taoiseach telling lies about funds he had received while minister for finance was not a matter for then, but for some time in the distant future when the tribunal reported. They didn't put it quite that way, but that's what it amounted to.

And it wasn't just the Fianna Fáil crowd who didn't want to know. Fine Gael's Enda Kenny didn't want to know. He said the people wanted to focus on "the issues" in the 2007 campaign. As if the then taoiseach telling lies under oath to a tribunal established by the Oireachtas, about secret funds he got while minister for finance, wasn't an issue.

Kenny and Fine Gael, and Pat Rabbitte and Labour too, didn't have the moral courage to confront Bertie Ahern on the matter back then, for fear of an electoral backlash. Now they have the nerve to engage in sanctimonious guff about standards in public life, yet they couldn't raise a cheep about it precisely at the time when it was most relevant.

The country re-elected Ahern as taoiseach for the third time in 2007, when he was telling porky after porky to the tribunal. He continued to do so for another year until it became too much, even for Fianna Fáil ministers, and he had to go.

Along the way, the PDs stood by Ahern throughout, aside from Michael McDowell's wobble in the middle of that 2007 election campaign. Once the wobble was over, the PDs continued to urge the re-election of a government led by Ahern.

The Greens were as bad. While professing concern about Ahern's truthfulness during the election campaign, when the change of ministerial office emerged after the election, they were in like (ahem) Flynn. Not a bother. And not a bother thereafter, as the stories mounted and mounted.

Let's not forget Sinn Féin. It saw a chance of getting into government with Ahern after that election, and boy, did the party go for it. Remember the spectacular climbdown over raising income tax? Sinn Féin wanted to prove it could be as "responsible" as the best of them, "responsible" in not disturbing settled privileges and wealth.

It had no trouble with Bertie Ahern then either.

The utter cynicism that pervades our politics - for which Pat Rabbitte was blaming the media a few weeks ago - is compounded by the spectacle of Denis O'Brien at "important" photo-shoots (apologies for the oxymoron) with Enda Kenny and other notables of this government, in the aftermath of a tribunal finding that he had given plenty of money to the then minister with responsibility in the area of mobile phone licences after he obtained the second mobile phone licence in 1996.

If Kenny had rejected the tribunal finding about O'Brien, as O'Brien himself has done, it would be different. But Kenny joined in a formal Dáil condemnation of the other person in that transaction, Michael Lowry (then a minister), and also said he accepted the tribunal's findings.

God save Ireland from the heroes, eh?

Image top: Paul Watson.