ConText: Pick-me-up

I could do with one of those in the morning

I could do with one of those in the morning.This kind of pick-me-up won't give you added energy, but it might give you extra spending power.

So it's not some kind of hangover cure?No, but it is a hangover from the bad old days of stroke politics, and it reared its ugly head again this week with allegations that Fianna Fáil and other political parties had used pick-me-ups to boost more than their adrenaline levels.

Anything to do with dig-outs?An individual politician may benefit from a dig-out, but with pick-me-ups, also known as PMUs, the entire party is quids in. PMUs work like this: someone wants to make a donation to a political party but would like the deal to remain confidential. So instead of handing money directly to the party, which is a no-no, the donor pays a debt owed by the party - basically, they pick up the bill.

Sneaky, sneaky.That's not the half of it. Sometimes a bogus invoice for a non-existent debt can be drawn up, so the party keeps the payment to itself. The company in question can also claim the Vat and corporation tax on the bogus bill, leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab.


When did all this PMU business start?Last week Des Richardson, former chief fundraiser for Fianna Fáil, told the Mahon tribunal that PMUs have been used by numerous parties for the past 35 years, and originated with a debt owed by Fianna Fáil to an advertising executive. The adman apparently couldn't get the party to cough up, so a well-heeled party supporter was approached, who agreed to cover the debt.

Ancient history then?Bertie Ahern was back in the spotlight recently over an alleged bogus invoice drawn up to disguise a payment by NCB stockbrokers in the 1990s. The NCB managing director at the time, Padraic O'Connor, was one of the benefactors involved in Bertie's infamous dig-out. It is alleged that money paid by NCB on foot of a bogus invoice ended up in Ahern's personal dig-out fund. Graham O'Brien, who was NCB's financial controller at the time, told the tribunal he thought it was a donation to Fianna Fáil. Either way, it's likely a few people will suffer from a bad case of PMU.

Did no one try to stop this?Yes - Bertie. Richardson says he arranged to meet the Taoiseach in 1998, and related his fears that people may be abusing PMUs. He says Bertie told him to take all necessary steps to put an end to this practice.

Try at home:Okay, I'll give you the money for a computer game, but tell your mum you spent it on schoolbooks.

Try at work:This invoice for Melinda's Massage Parlour - please tell me it's bogus.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist