“no big deal..”

We’ve been remiss in not noting Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s delayed appearances in front of the Mahon Tribunal, but the absence of conclusive records of a money trail means that what we’ll end up with is likely to be speculative rather than potentially incriminating.. after all, it’s not as if he was signing blank cheques for someone.. ANYhoo.. Irish Election has been following each day’s appearance, and there’s at least one more to come. But there are a few reports worth looking at, Miriam Lord in the Irish Times on the first couple of days.. and Elaine Edwards on the latest – “The Taoiseach’s verbal exchanges with Mr O’Neill reached a point in late afternoon where the tiny sound of several dozen journalists’ last remaining brain cells exploding could clearly be heard in a sort of popcorn domino effect through the room.” There’s another report on the day’s events here. And RTÉ records the Taoiseach’s uncertainty about the actual events at the time

Mr Ahern told the tribunal that he could not be sure whether he purchased the money in one lump or instalments, or even if he carried out the transaction with the bank. Under further questioning he said that he could have had someone else carry out the transaction for him, as he would have been travelling all over the country at the time on party business.

From the Irish Times feature by Miriam Lord [subs req]

It was the Manchester money that most concerned O’Neill. Bertie gave details of what happened and, as he told it, it sounded quite bizarre. Ahern was in Manchester to watch his beloved United. On the Friday night before the game, he met with a group of friends at the Four Seasons Hotel. These guys were well-off, much wealthier than Michael Wall, said Bertie. If Michael was wealthy, these guys were “very wealthy.” One got the impression that frugal Bertie likes money more than he lets on.

They dined in the restaurant, about 20 rich businessmen who, Ahern said, had businesses in England but also invested in Ireland. During the meal, there was an informal “Q and A” with him on the Irish economy. They moved into the bar. It wasn’t a speech or anything. He’d obliged them with his wisdom on other occasions, and had often been given a gift of glass or books.

But this time he got an envelope containing £8,000 sterling in £50 notes. Bertie reckoned it was because “I stayed on and talked on the economy”. He was surprised when the host, businessman Tim Kilroe – now deceased – approached him and said the group “appreciated me coming over and appreciated me being there”. Whereupon he pressed the envelope upon Bertie, who put it in his pocket and didn’t open it until he got back to Dublin two days later.

As the questions continued, Deathly Des seemed a little disturbed that a serving finance minister should accept such a large amount from businessmen.

“It’s no big deal,” shrugged Bertie, the man who almost cried on national television because he was on his uppers at the time. No, it wasn’t a problem. “I’d answered lots of questions on the economy.”

“Some of these people were worth £50 million-plus at the time,” he added with a proud smile. “These are serious people. The idea that they went around the restaurant with a hat or a plate just didn’t happen.”

The gallery tittered. Every time it did so, and it happened with increasing frequency as the afternoon wore on, Bertie’s lips disappeared in the direction of his tonsils and his expression turned thunderous.

“For them it’s not a sizeable contribution; for me, it’s a sizeable contribution.” The details of which he can’t remember.

“In Dublin, you’d be unlikely to get even a pint off them,” Ahern sniffed.

That money, eventually, was added to the Drumcondra dig-out money and lodged, he’s not sure how, in the bank. In the meantime, it was in his busy safe.

But whether or not the money trail runs aground.. here’s a reminder that there remain other issues that might sink Captain Bertie

A number of those identified have been appointed to public boards by Mr Ahern’s governments. Mr Ahern said he appointed the men because they were friends and not because they had given him money.[added emphasis]

Des Richardson, a successful political fundraiser and long-time associate of Mr Ahern, was appointed to the board of Aer Lingus in November 1997 and served on the board until November 2002. As a member of the board, he and his family were entitled to concession rate travel.

Joe Burke, a builder and former Fianna Fáil councillor in Dublin, was appointed chairman of the Dublin Port Company in 2002, just after that year’s general election was called. The appointment was made by the then minister for the marine, Frank Fahey, after Mr Burke had asked Mr Ahern for the appointment.[added emphasis]

Jim Nugent, a businessman and consultant, served three terms as chairman of the State tourism training agency, Cert. He resigned in November 1997.

David McKenna, a businessman who ran a very successful publicly quoted recruitment firm, Marlborough, during the 1990s, was a member of the board of Enterprise Ireland from March 1999 to March 2001.