Still more questions than answers..

With the Tribunal reminding Bertie Ahern to “respect the confidentiality of details provided”, others seem content to blame Anybody But Bertie for the crisis, and the man himself has finally gotten around to paying back the IR£39,000 (£33,000stg) personal loan from 1993/4, plus interest, by sending off cheques worth €90,000 in total [as you do – Ed]. Meanwhile, Gene Kerrigan, quite correctly, questions every single detail that has emerged – including the idea that the information given to the Tribunal was volunteered. Vincent Browne also deals with that issue, and focuses his attention on the IR£50,000 savings amassed by Ahern prior to 1994, at a time when he is said to have told the Tribunal he didn’t have a bank account.From the Sunday Independent article

How desperate was Ahern’s financial state, to cause friends to rush to his aid so generously?

The only specific payment he has mentioned arising from the separation settlement is £20,000 put aside for the further education of his two daughters. Presumably there were legal costs and perhaps other costs. Ahern has said: “The money I’d saved was gone.” This suggests that on top of the £20,000 education fund, his costs were at least another £30,000, wiping out the £50,000 he says he saved. He says he got a loan of an unspecified amount from AIB – which suggests his costs went beyond the £50,000 he said he saved.

“I had no house, the house was gone.” Presumably this means that his wife Miriam formally took sole ownership of the family house, as part of the settlement. However, Ahern had been separated since 1987 and had had to make separate living arrangements. And despite that, according to his own account, he had a surplus of over £6,000, year after year for eight years.

In 1993, between his Minister’s salary (£40,000) and his TD’s salary (£38,000), he was earning £78,000 a year. For perspective, we can note that the average industrial wage at the time was £13,500, and a typical semi-detached house could be bought for around £60,000.

In short, if he saved £50,000 and he was earning £78,000 he was far from being on the breadline, even when he faced the costs of his separation. In addition, he had free transport and the various perks of office (subsidised Dail restaurant etc), so his living costs were limited.

Further cutting his costs, a group of Ahern’s supporters had organised the purchase of a large house in Drumcondra, St Luke’s, to be used as a constituency office, with a flat overhead for Ahern’s personal use.

So, we have two contrasting views of Ahern’s position in 1993. In one view, he was on the breadline and needed financial support. In the other view, he was earning substantial money, he had accumulated a large amount of savings, his personal outgoings were modest, he had an excellent credit rating and had borrowed an amount from AIB that he was well able to pay back – therefore, he could readily meet the financial demands of that time.

Vincent Browne, while more sympathetic, places the odds on Ahern staying put at no more than 50/50, and looks at the IR£50,000 savings and the unprompted disclosure

It now seems obvious that when Ahern was asked to give his financial records to the Mahon Tribunal, he told them he had no financial records for the period from 1987 to 1993.

That in itself must have seemed perplexing to the tribunal.

Then, when he produced the records of the bank account he set up in 1994, these three curious lodgments appeared: the £38,000 allegedly from the pals (this may have appeared as two lodgments), the stg£8,000 and, most intriguingly, the £50,000.

They would have asked him to explain where these lodgments came from. In respect of the £50,000, he would have said he saved it over the previous several years, without, one presumes, there being any paper trail back-up for this because he had no bank account.

Ahern and his apologists have taken credit for his ‘‘unprompted’’ disclosures about the £50,000 ‘‘savings’’ and the stg£8,000 speaker’s fee. But was it ‘‘unprompted’’? Did he suspect the Irish Times was aware of these lodgments and aware the Mahon Tribunal was investigating them?

Would he not have feared that the Mahon Tribunal, would announce in public session that it was investigating these lodgments to his account?

Almost certainly, the wagons will circle around Ahern where the £50,000 ‘‘saving’’ is concerned, but the questions will linger – and, if not dealt with satisfactorily, will do terrible damage to Fianna Fail in the months before the election.

Whether those questions, and any others, are answered satisfactorily on Tuesday remains to be seen.