Bertie Ahern resigns his membership of Fianna Fáil

 

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern is to resign his membership of Fianna Fáil just days before the party’s National Executive meets to consider a motion to expel him.

In an article in the Sunday Independent newspaper, Mr Ahern said he was “deeply saddened” by the tabling of a motion to expel him from the party which he led for 14 years.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin yesterday confirmed his intention to seek the expulsion of Mr Ahern, former EU commissioner Pádraig Flynn and three others after they were criticised in the Mahon report.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan has instructed the head of the Criminal Assets Bureau to take charge of investigations arising out of the planning tribunal’s report which identified widespread dishonesty and corruption in public life.

Chief Supt Eugene Corcoran, a qualified barrister, is to assemble a team of officers specialising in white-collar crime and fraud to review the 3,270-page report.

Garda sources said the choice of the senior officer from the bureau was a significant one. “Obviously with Cab leading it, the investigation will focus on who gave money and who got it, then how they all benefited and if the financial upside can be confiscated from them,” said one source.

Mr Martin has found himself under intense scrutiny over his own participation in Mr Ahern’s government. He has denied being party to or aware of any attempt by Fianna Fáil ministers to undermine or collapse the tribunal. It had accused government ministers of launching unseemly and partisan attacks in order to undermine its work.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny described the behaviour of Fianna Fáil ministers when criticising the inquiry in 2007 as “disgraceful” and promised the Government would implement as many of the report’s recommendations as possible.

Mr Martin sought to deflect the intense focus on his party by accusing the Government of failing to act on the findings of the Moriarty report published over a year ago. He said it was not appropriate for Government Ministers to appear on the same platform as people against whom adverse findings were made in tribunal reports.

The Taoiseach’s appearance alongside businessman Denis O’Brien at the New York Stock Exchange last Monday “shouldn’t have happened”, he said. Mr Kenny said later he had no say in the line-up for the event.

The Fianna Fáil leader would have needed a two-thirds majority of the 95-member national executive to secure the expulsion of Mr Ahern. Initial signs of internal opposition to the move were evident when two members of the officer board, Mary White and Kathryn Byrne, abstained on a vote to bring forward the motion on Mr Ahern. It is understood they pointed out that, unlike the other four cases, no finding of corruption was made in relation to the former taoiseach.

Mr Martin was also forced to reject accusations by Mr Ahern’s brother Noel that he was acting in a “macho” way and using the report to boost his own image.

Mr Flynn rejected the findings of the tribunal, which said he corruptly received a £50,000 payment. In a statement, he denied having sought or received payments from others.

The tribunal countered claims by Mr Ahern that it had failed to use experts to examine his accounts and that it failed to call his banking expert. It is understood the inquiry employed two forensic accountants for over a decade, while Mr Ahern’s lawyers were free to call his expert as a witness.

The Standards in Public Office Commission may investigate the finding of the planning tribunal that Fianna Fáil ministers attacked the tribunal in an attempt to collapse its inquiry into Mr Ahern.

The Government has sent a copy of the Mahon tribunal’s final report to the ethics watchdog. In the covering letter to chairman Mr Justice Matthew Smith, the Government asks him to consider if an investigation is merited based on the findings.