Opposition says Ahern's fitness to lead now in doubt

 

THE LATEST disclosures at the Mahon tribunal about the lodgement of £15,500 sterling into Bertie Ahern's building society account raise doubts about his ability to continue in office, according to the Opposition.

Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore called on Fianna Fáil deputy leader Brian Cowen to bring the issue to a head in the interests of the country, while Fine Gael spokesman on the environment Fergus O'Dowd said Mr Ahern must tell the truth about his financial affairs.

Asked for a comment, a Government spokesman said: "The Taoiseach will deal with these matters at the tribunal as the tribunal is the appropriate forum to deal with them. The legal team will correspond with the tribunal and it would not be proper to brief the media in advance of this."

The Taoiseach was in Dublin yesterday, having returned from the United States on Tuesday.

The latest controversy has arisen since the former constituency secretary to Mr Ahern, Gráinne Carruth, told the Mahon tribunal she now accepted "as a matter of probability" that she had lodged sterling cash he gave her to his Irish Permanent Building Society account in Drumcondra, Dublin, in 1994.

The lodgements, totalling £15,500 sterling, were made three times over an eight-month period and included lodgements to the accounts of Mr Ahern's two daughters in the same branch. At the time, Mr Ahern was minister for finance.

Mr Ahern told the tribunal during his evidence in February that the lodgements to his and his daughters' accounts came from his salary as a politician.

No member of his legal team was present at yesterday's hearing.

Mr Gilmore said the evidence further undermined the credibility of the accounts Mr Ahern had previously given to the tribunal, the Dáil and the media.

"We now know that far from being on his financial uppers in the early 1990s, Mr Ahern's myriad accounts in various financial institutions were awash with money. It now also seems beyond dispute that, despite repeated denials by Mr Ahern, a number of lodgements to his accounts were in sterling," said the Labour leader.

He said the tribunal and the public were now entitled to know the identity of the benefactors who provided Mr Ahern with these sterling donations and for what purpose the payments were made.

"It is now time for Brian Cowen and other senior figures to put loyalty to the country ahead of loyalty to their damaged party leader; it is time to bring this sorry saga to a conclusion, so that the Government and the Dáil can now concentrate on dealing with the huge social and economic problems facing us," Mr Gilmore said.

Mr O'Dowd said the Taoiseach had to come clean about his financial affairs. "The issues of conflicting evidence and sterling lodgements which Ms Carruth had to face up to in recent days must now be addressed truthfully by her former employer, Mr Ahern, on whose behalf she acted."

In her evidence, Ms Carruth, who on Wednesday had said she had not lodged sterling for Mr Ahern, yesterday accepted that she must have. She said that any lodgements made had been made on Mr Ahern's instructions.