Martin critical of Ahern expenses

 

Expenses claimed by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern were too high and should be reduced, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said today.

It emerged this week that the former taoiseach 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 former taoiseach Albert Reynolds claimed for the same two and a half 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 today 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.”

The party leader also criticised Mr Ahern for comments he made about the party’s cumainn on a documentary on the history of Fianna Fail, due to be broadcast on TV3 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 in the end of the 1970s none of the Seán McDermott Street cumann 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.