Ahern's claim on presidency win 'ridiculous'


FORMER FIANNA Fáil leader Bertie Ahern has come in for stinging criticism from current party leader Micheál Martin.

Mr Ahern’s claim on radio that he could have won the presidency was described by Mr Martin as “ridiculous”, while comments he made about party cumainn were also dismissed by the new leader.

Speaking on Cork’s 96 FM, Mr Martin said the former taoiseach was “out of touch with reality” if he believed he could have won the presidency for Fianna Fáil.

On another radio station Mr Martin took Mr Ahern to task for comments he made about the party’s cumainn in a documentary on the history of Fianna Fáil due to be broadcast next week.

Mr Ahern had said a lot of people had “tea parties” and met to discuss the state of the world in the 1970s and 1980s, but “they were useless” at building up the Fianna Fáil vote.

He said when he moved into the city centre at the end of the 1970s, none of the Seán McDermott Street cumainn members came from the north side of the Liffey and they were afraid to drive through the area, “not to mind canvas”. “Quite frankly, they were a useless bunch of good-for-nothings,” Mr Ahern said.

“I’m really appalled at that,” Mr Martin said, having heard the comments.

He described it as an “unbridled attack on grassroots members” and “very unfair”.

“Members of cumainn and political parties are the lifeblood of politics,” he said.

Mr Martin also said expenses paid to Mr Ahern in his capacity as a former taoiseach were too high and should be reduced.

He was commenting on reports that Mr Ahern had claimed €265,000 for “secretarial services” and €7,500 on mobile phone bills since he stepped down in May 2008.

Under the current expenses regime, a former taoiseach may employ two secretarial assistants for up to five years after leaving office and one indefinitely after that.

In 2009, Mr Ahern claimed almost €115,000 for secretarial services expenses, while last year he claimed almost €107,000.

And from January to July this year, he claimed almost €43,000, according to figures from the Department of the Taoiseach.

Ex-taoisigh are also entitled to free mobile phone use, a diplomatic passport, VIP services at airports and the use of a State car for official engagements only.

Mr Ahern’s claims were more than twice the €115,277 claimed by former taoiseach Albert Reynolds for the same 2½-year period and almost 10 times as much claimed by former Fine Gael taoiseach John Bruton.

Asked by presenter Ivan Yates on Newstalk’s Breakfast show yesterday what he thought of Mr Ahern’s expenses claim, Mr Martin said he thought it was too high.

“I think it should be reduced,” he said.

“Previous taoisigh also received similar types of support in the aftermath of being taoiseach, but in the present set of circumstances, that is excessive.”