Monies given to Taoiseach were repayable
The monies given to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern in December 1993 were given to him in the form of repayable loans, The Irish Times has established independently of the Mahon tribunal. Not all of the loans have been repaid, according to informed sources, write Colm Keena & Stephen Collins.
"He [Mr Ahern] offered repeatedly to repay the money. It's a debt of honour to him. He wants to repay them but the boys won't take it back at the moment," said one source.
Donors were told the money was being accepted as a repayable loan, and they accepted this, according to sources. A spokeswoman for Mr Ahern said he would not be commenting on these matters.
Mr Ahern's friend and solicitor, the late Gerry Brennan, was involved in the seeking and receiving of money for the then minister for finance. The figures are believed to be between €50,000 and ... €100,000. However the Taoiseach while not specifying the amounts has said these figures are "off the wall".
Sources outside the scope of the Mahon tribunal have come forward to The Irish Times in the past two days with information about the 1993 payments to Mr Ahern.
The tribunal contacted this newspaper on Thursday night maintaining that the original story on the payments to Mr Ahern was in breach of an injunction granted to the tribunal by the Supreme Court in 2005, and seeking an explanation for publication.
That explanation was furnished to the tribunal yesterday.
The tribunal also contacted other media outlets yesterday to remind them that they were prohibited from publishing information given in confidence.
Last night Minister for the Environment Dick Roche said that some form of investigation will probably be needed to examine the Mahon tribunal leak relating to the Taoiseach. He said he was the Minister with responsibility for the tribunals and that he felt "absolutely dismayed" a leak had happened.
Deputy leader of the Labour Party Liz McManus described Mr Roche's comments as a "totally inappropriate response". She said the matter was now in the public domain and it was up to the Taoiseach to make a statement and explain.
Mr Ahern maintained yesterday that controversy had arisen from a calculated leak of confidential material which was made available to the Mahon tribunal in the course of its inquiries.
"I have supplied extensive material, fully and freely, to assist them on fulfilling the terms of reference which my Government put forward and which we fully support. And of course the media interest and the opportunistic response are precisely the results which this sinister leak - from which source I do not know - was designed to provoke," he said in a short statement.
Refusing to take any questions on the issue, Mr Ahern again claimed that the controversy had arisen from a calculated and sinister leak that constituted a threat to the right of the citizen and the integrity of our systems of accountability.
"I've given the tribunal full and comprehensive information about all of my financial and personal affairs, over many years, which they have inquired or which might be of any interest to them. My family and friends have also co-operated fully with the extensive demands made of them. All of that material is available to the tribunal and it's for them to assess its significance or relevance. As always, if they've anything to ask me, or write to me, I'd be very glad to answer," he said.
The Opposition parties were adamant last night that the Taoiseach had not answered the fundamental question of whether it was appropriate for a senior politician to accept a sum of money for his personal use from a businessman.
A Fine Gael spokesman said that the party leader, Enda Kenny, would raise the issue when the Dáil resumed next week and would be asking the Taoiseach to explain how he came to accept the money in 1993 and how much it had amounted to.
Fine Gael environment spokesman Fergus O'Dowd said the Taoiseach's claim that it was a private matter did not apply. "He received cash gifts from businessmen - which he personally confirmed - while serving as minister for finance, and as such the matter is one of legitimate public concern."
Labour Finance spokeswoman Joan Burton said the refusal of the Progressive Democrats to even comment on the serious issues raised by the admission from the Taoiseach that he had received money from businessmen in the early 1990s was an indication of the extent to which that party had now departed from the values and standards it once claimed to uphold.