FF proposes expulsion of Ahern over Mahon report

Thu, Mar 22, 2012, 00:00

Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin is to propose a motion to expel former taoiseach Bertie Ahern from the party following the publication of the final report of the Mahon tribunal.

Motions to expel Mr Ahern and former minister Padraig Flynn will be put before a special meeting of the party's national executive on Friday, March 31st.

Mr Ahern said tonight, however, he would "never accept" findings by the Mahon tribunal that he failed to give a "truthful account" of his finances and he said he will continue to examine ways to vindicate his name.

In its final report, the tribunal rejected much of the sworn evidence given to it by Mr Ahern and said that he failed to “truthfully account” for the source of lodgements made to his bank account. It did not make any finding of corruption against him.

The planning tribunal found Mr Ahern failed to account for over IR£165,000 which passed through bank accounts connected to him in the early and mid-1990s.

Mr Ahern said he had never in his life accepted a bribe or a corrupt payment.

In a statement, he said the tribunal had not made – nor could it make – a finding to support the "scurrilous and untrue allegation" that he had been given a corrupt payment by Cork-based developer Owen O'Callaghan or any of his companies.

He said the only reason that the tribunal was allowed to investigate him was "the entirely untrue and unworthy allegation that I had received money from Owen O'Callaghan".

"Without that allegation (which in truth was no more than rumour and gossip) it had no mandate at all to carry out a general inquiry into my finances and a trawl of my personal life."

"I am disappointed that the tribunal has said that I failed to give 'a truthful account', he said.

"That statement is unfair and inaccurate having regard to the evidence. It is one that I cannot and I will never accept and I will continue to examine ways in which to vindicate my name. I was honest with the tribunal and I gave it truthful evidence and I reject completely any suggestion that I did otherwise."

Mr Ahern said he was "incredulous" that the tribunal had rejected the evidence of a number of individuals, including friends who had loaned him money and whose evidence supported his.

"I find it extraordinary that the tribunal has also disregarded the expert evidence that was given to it on tax, accounting and banking matters which supported me. In particular, I believe that the notion that I got large sums of sterling and dollars is objectionable, inaccurate and without an iota of foundation," he added.

"Given the significance of the issue, this conclusion is all the more surprising because it has been arrived at without deploying the resources of a forensic accountant or an independent banking witness."

Senior Fianna Fáil party members met tonight to consider the findings of the Mahon tribunal report.

"Much of the explanation provided by Mr Ahern as to the source of the substantial funds identified and inquired into in the course of the tribunal’s public hearings was deemed by the tribunal to be untrue," the report found.

However, it says that because Mr Ahern did not give a true account as to the source of money lodged to his accounts, the tribunal has not been able to identify where the money came from. For this reason, it could not determine whether Mr Ahern had received corrupt payments from developer Owen O’Callaghan.

The Government is to refer the 3,270-page report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Proescutions, the Revenue Commissioners and to the Standards in Public Office Commission. A three-day Dáil debate on the report will take place next week.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny said the report exposes a "litany of unacceptable statements from the former taoiseach”.

A spokesman for Mr Ahern said: “Mr Bertie Ahern is reviewing the final report of the Mahon tribunal and will issue a statement in due course.”

The report says that while the tribunal was inquiring into matters relating to Mr Ahern in the 2007/08 period, it “came under sustained and virulent attack from a number of senior government ministers who questioned, inter alia, the legality of its inquiries as well as the integrity of its members”.

It added: "There appears little doubt that the objective of these extraordinary and unprecedented attacks on the tribunal was to undermine the efficient conduct of the tribunal’s inquiries, erode its independence and collapse its inquiry into that individual."

Regarding Fianna Fáil, the tribunal states that the concept of senior government figures and ministers seeking financial contributions from businessmen who were in turn lobbying government to support various commercial projects was entirely inappropriate, and represented "an abuse of political power and government authority".

Fianna Fáil environment spokesman Niall Collins this evening called on Minister for Environment Phil Hogan to reopen the independent inquiries into planning irregularities in five local authorities. The inquiries were shut down by Mr Hogan shortly after taking up office last year.

The tribunal found that former Fianna Fáil minister and EU commissioner Pádraig Flynn "wrongfully and corruptly sought a substantial donation" from developer Tom Gilmartin for the party. Having been paid IR£50,000 by Mr Gilmartin for that purpose, Mr Flynn proceeded to "utilise the money for his personal benefit", the report states. Part of the IR£50,000 was used to buy a farm in Cloonanass, Co Mayo, in the name of Mr Flynn's wife Dorothy, the report said.

The report says Mr Gilmartin was acting under duress or had been coerced into make the donation and that he felt he had no choice in order to stop elected representatives obstructing his plan for a major shopping centre in west Dublin, now known as Liffey Valley and as Quarryvale in the late 1980s.

The tribunal found Mr O’Callaghan personally made or authorised corrupt payments totalling almost £120,000 to politicians for their support.

The tribunal did not accept the Cork-based developer was unaware of the “corrupt” activity of former Fianna Fáil lobbyist Frank Dunlop in paying councillors to support the rezoning of his development at Quarryvale. It said he also paid the late Liam Lawlor, who was a Dublin TD and a councillor, IR£41,000 between 1991 and 1996.

In a statement this afternoon, Mr O’Callaghan said he “utterly” rejects the findings of tribunal and intends to seek their judicial review in the High Court.

The tribunal found Lawlor, who died in a car crash in Moscow in 2005, abused his role as an elected public representative to a "very significant degree."

It said Mr Lawlor, while an elected public representative, "conducted a personal business in the course of which he corruptly sold his expertise, knowledge and influence as a councillor and as a TD for personal financial reward". It said his "demands for payments, and his acceptance of money in these circumstances were enitrely inappropriate and were corrupt”.

The tribunal said it was satisfied that complaints made to the Garda by Mr Gilmartin during a 1989 corruption investigation about

Lawlor, former assistant county manager George Redmond and Cllr Finbarr Hanrahan were not “thoroughly investigated”.

The tribunal said it was satisfied that a call to Mr Gilmartin from a person who identified himself as “Garda Burns” were designed to intimidate and warn him off the path he had embarked on in making complaints about planning practices.

Mr Lawlor’s position as a TD was a likely reason why he was not interviewed by the Garda, the tribunal said, but it added that it was puzzled as to why the Garda went to such lengths to exonerate Mr Lawlor and Mr Redmond.

The Mahon tribunal, the State’s longest running corruption inquiry, was established 15 years ago and has costs estimated at over €250 million. It has held 917 days of public hearings with 400 witnesses.

It was set up by Mr Ahern’s Fianna Fáil government in 1997 to investigate allegations of corruption.

The inquiry was originally sparked by cash for votes accusations in Dublin councils in the early 1990s. Allegations centred on the bribing of councillors for the re-zoning of large swathes of land around the capital from low value greenfield to lucrative commercial or residential sites.