Ahern says he is struggling to pay tribunal legal bills

 

FORMER TAOISEACH Bertie Ahern has said the planning tribunal has already cost him €500,000 and he is struggling to pay his legal bills.

Mr Ahern said “practically everything I have” has gone into paying his legal fees “and I would still have huge other costs”.

He told Ursula Halligan in the first of a three-part TV3 series on Fianna Fáil, to be shown next Monday, that “I don’t have those kind of resources”.

Figures released this week showed Mr Ahern has been paid €264,000 in expenses since he left office in May 2008. He is also paid an annual pension of €150,000.

Mr Ahern said he was “1,000 per cent innocent” of the “half a dozen things” that had been put to him at the tribunal.

He was questioned extensively at the tribunal over payments made to him in the 1990s when he was minister for finance.

The Rise and Fall of Fianna Fáilcharts the party’s rise to become one of the most successful political movements in Europe to its drubbing in this year’s election.

It features all the major protagonists who are still alive, with the exception of former taoiseach Brian Cowen and former minister for finance Charlie McCreevy.

Mr Ahern defended himself against allegations that he allowed the cumann structure to disintegrate in favour of a personality-driven party.

He said many of the cumann in the 1970s and 1980s were “useless” in building up the party vote, and recalled one particular cumann which refused to canvass for him in Sean McDermott Street. “Quite frankly, they were a bunch of useless good-for-nothings.”

Mr Ahern’s former partner Celia Larkin said she did not believe he was corrupt and she would not have stayed with him as long as she did had he been so.

“I don’t think the Bertie that I know would ever have set himself up to be a puppet politician or beholden to anybody,” she said.

However, she criticised him for holding on to power too long and said achieving milestones as taoiseach, for him, were like “notches on a bedpost”.

She urged him to quit as taoiseach midway through his second term, but he would not agree. She also wanted him to quit after the tribunals started because the “country is more important than any one individual.

“In my view, it’s wrong to stay longer than the term and a half. But for Bertie, it is important . . . to notch up the three terms in office. But running the country is about the country. It’s not about notches on a bedpost.”

Seán Haughey, son of former taoiseach Charles Haughey, said his father’s biggest flaw was his “personal lifestyle” which arose from growing up in a home where his mother struggled to rear seven children on her own.

“That stemmed from his childhood with not much money around. The need to have material wealth was, perhaps, the flaw,” Mr Haughey said.

Mr Haughey’s former political adviser Martin Mansergh said: “I shouldn’t say this, but he was almost a substitute father figure as far as I was concerned.”