Ahern facilitated the misuse of party funds

A companion piece to the main story from the Moriarty Report on Charles Haughey’s irregular finances noted by Mick which reflects more on the current political scene, namely the then-Finance Minister, now-Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, whose own financial irregularities were called into question recently. From the Irish Times breaking news

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern facilitated the misuse of party funds by Charles Haughey by signing blank cheques for an account designed to receive funds for the party leader from the Exchequer, the Moriarty report found.

Update George provides a link to the Moriarty Report[pdf file] and here’s a Press Association reportFrom the Irish Times breaking news

For all practical purposes, the account was treated by Mr Haughey as being at his disposal, and Mr Haughey accepted that it was used for payments not intended to be made from the Leader’s Allowance, including payments to meet his personal expenditures,” the report said.

The report added that although Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who co-signed the cheques drawn on the account at the time, facilitated the misuse of the account, he had “had no reason to believe that the account was operated otherwise than for a proper purpose.

“There were no statutory or other controls governing the operation of the account at the time,” the tribunal said.

It added that the practice of signing blank cheques by Mr Ahern was “inappropriate and imprudent, having regard to the nature of the account (being one used to administer funds provided from the public purse), the skills and experience then possessed by Mr Ahern”.[added emphasis]

So not corrupt, just incompetent?

Update From the PA report

“Whilst the tribunal is satisfied that Mr Bertie Ahern (who co-signed the cheques drawn on the account), had no reason to believe that the account was operated otherwise than for a proper purpose, the practice of pre-signing cheques by Mr Ahern undoubtedly facilitated the misuse of the account by Mr Haughey,” the judge found.[added emphasis]

“This was a practice which has to be viewed as both inappropriate and imprudent.”

Adds The full paragraph in the report that the quotes are drawn from is

23-36 There were no statutory or other controls governing the operation of the account at the time, and whilst the Tribunal is satisfied that Mr. Bertie Ahern (who co-signed the cheques drawn on the account), had no reason to believe that the account was operated otherwise than for a proper purpose, the practise of pre-signing cheques by Mr. Ahern undoubtedly facilitated the misuse of the account by Mr. Haughey. This was a practise which has to be viewed as both inappropriate and imprudent, having regard to the nature of the account (being one used to administer funds provided from the public purse), the skills and experience then possessed by Mr. Ahern, and the absence of any internal or external audit of the account. This was a matter which was largely accepted by Mr. Ahern in his evidence to the Tribunal, and it is noteworthy that, at the instance of Mr. Ahern, certain amendments to the law governing the allowance have since been made, which have introduced significant statutory controls in terms of both the application of the allowance, and in terms of accountability to the Public Office Commission.[added emphasis]

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  • George

    Actually the newspaper report says “unknowingly facilitated” Pete, so your headline is misleading.

    The next sentence in tribunal report after your emphasis is:

    “This was a matter which was largely accepted by Mr. Ahern in his evidence to the Tribunal, and it is noteworthy that, at the instance of Mr. Ahern, certain amendments to the law governing the
    allowance have since been made, which have introduced significant statutory controls in terms of both the application of the allowance and in terms of accountability to the Public Office Commission.”

    You might want to link to the report:

    http://www.moriarty-tribunal.ie/images/sitecontent_26.pdf

  • Pete Baker

    Thanks for the link to the report, George, I’d left the main body of that for Mick’s post.

    As to being misleading, the detail on Bertie Ahern’s unknowningness when signing blank cheques is included in the body of the quoted article.

    he had “had no reason to believe that the account was operated otherwise than for a proper purpose”

  • George

    Pete,
    I know but generally it is better to put extremely relevant information further up, which I assume is why the Irish Times but “unknowingly facilitated” in its headline.

    I said your headline was misleading, not what you wrote in its entirety. Just my view but I think it’s an extremely relevant word to decide to leave out of the headline.

  • Pete Baker

    The actual quote from the report is “undoubtedly facilitated”, george.

  • George

    Pete,
    The Irish Times put in “unknowingly” as its way of pointing out the relevance of the Tribunal stating that Ahern clearly “had no reason to believe that the account was operated otherwise than for a proper purpose”.

    You decided not to use a word that covered this salient fact from your headline, a fact you acknowledged was key by highlighting it further down in your piece.

    For this reason, I think your headline is misleading while the Irish Times’ one is not. My view.

  • Pete Baker

    George

    I’m not going to get into an argument with you about what I put in a heading for a post that includes all the relevant details for anyone who reads further than a headline.

    The full paragraph is quoted – as an addition to the original post.

    What the Irish Times headline writer assumes from that paragraph [or even from the Breaking News article] is up to them, as is your view.

    Perhaps I should just have quoted the “undoubtedly” line from the Moriarty report..

    ANYway.. in my view the most important line from that paragraph of the report is this

    This was a practise which has to be viewed as both inappropriate and imprudent, having regard to the nature of the account (being one used to administer funds provided from the public purse), the skills and experience then possessed by Mr. Ahern, and the absence of any internal or external audit of the account.

    As I said originally – “So not corrupt, just incompetent?”

  • George

    Pete,
    the Tribunal flags the skills and experience of Ahern, which I assume is its way of saying he should have known better.

    Does that make him incompetent? I don’t think you can go that far because they are saying he had the skill and ability to realise that this method was open to abuse but for some reason didn’t apply it.

    But they equally say they believe he had no reason to believe that the account was operated otherwise than for a proper purpose.

    Incompetent would be if he knew and did nothing or not enough. Can you say he was incompetent for not knowing?

  • Pete Baker

    George

    From that same line of the report

    This was a practise which has to be viewed as both inappropriate and imprudent..

  • George

    True Pete,

    The signing of blank cheques and the whole FF procedure was described as inappropriate and imprudent.

    This is not to say that Ahern was incompetent.

    The Tribunal seems to be saying it thinks Ahern should have questioned this inappropriate and imprudent procedure.

    Note they call the practise “inappropriate and imprudent” rather than Ahern.

    If the Tribunal believed he was incompetent, they would have said so.

    I suppose you could say that if it smells like fudge, it generally is fudge.

  • George

    Sorry Pete,
    read that paragraph again. Ahern is labelled as carry out an imprudent and inappropriate practise.

  • Pete Baker

    No problem, george, these reports are generally written to require close reading. And that’s before the fudge is applied.

  • Pete Baker

    Actually, on further reflection, the heading would have been more accurate if it had referred to public funds.

    having regard to the nature of the account (being one used to administer funds provided from the public purse)

  • joeCanuck

    I have absolutely no problem with people writing blank cheques – as long as the funds are from their own bank account.
    Then the appropriate word to use is not incompetent – it’s just plain stupid.

  • Crataegus

    Joe

    Then the appropriate word to use is not incompetent – it’s just plain stupid.

    No Joe it is not stupid, Bertie is not stupid, its very clever. Plausible deniability is a term that springs to mind.

  • joeCanuck

    No Crataegus
    If you write bank cheques on your own account, you’re stupid.
    But yes, plausible deniability is a very useful tool for politicians.
    Bah.

  • Holt

    I am a co-signatory on our residents association bank account. I frequently sign blank cheques to facilitate the purchase of plants or shrubs by other members of the committee. (I am made aware of the purpose to which each cheque will be put)At each monthly meeting, under finance on the agenda, expenditure for the previous month is discussed and a full report is made available at each AGM.
    But we are not trained accountants, let alone ministers for finance, perhaps that is why such procedures are followed!

  • Crataegus

    Holt

    I think the way to look at it perhaps is Bertie did not want to know! In such circumstances procedures like the ones you outline are a disadvantage.

    In fairness it is a difficult position to be placed in. Anything iffy about money rule 1 don’t sign or certify anything, rule 2 if you do sign or certify make sure it cannot be conclusively proved that you had direct and full knowledge. Clarity is a disadvantage in such circumstances. If it comes to bribes etc you would never do it yourself but if necessary would employ a consultant to procure whatever!

  • joeCanuck

    Holt
    A better way to do it is to open accounts with those companies that you regulary do business with.
    Then, when the bill comes in you sign the cheque.
    Vitually risk free.