Bertie, the Commissioners and the truth about tax…

There is a major ruck going on in the Republic over the rather convoluted and, frankly, highly dodgy account the Taoiseach has given the Mahon Tribunal concerning his tax affairs. Cian has the Enda Kenny statement that the Irish Times re-published in full in yesterday’s paper. Mr Ahern responded by calling the opposition leader a ‘bare-faced liar’. Mr Kenny responded by stating that “…inside and outside the Dáil, we will relentlessly pursue this Government for its deceit in what it said to the Irish people.”Indeed, the Fine Gael leader has been on the front foot on this and anything else that might vaguely embarrass the government ever since the Taoiseach began his third term in June. Though as World BY Storm points out at the Cedar Room, Kenny is working in competition with, rather than in concert with the leader of the opposition Labour Party. Casting this as Enda vs Bertie undoubtedly helped bolster the image of Fine Gael as government-party-in-waiting.

That doesn’t mean that the Taoiseach hasn’t a case to answer. In fact there is a disturbing invisibility surrounding these payments, that mean the questions cannot be squarely put away until the Tribunal ends, or the Revenue Commissioners make up their minds.

Today the Irish Times argues that this campaign is something of a political gamble, particularly if matters are ramped up from speculation to action:

Senior party sources said the meeting would again discuss the possibility of making a formal complaint about the Taoiseach to the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo) but there were mixed views as to whether the front bench would proceed with what some see as a high-risk initiative.

In the event that Sipo did not uphold a complaint against Mr Ahern, Fine Gael could be politically embarrassed but a failure to proceed with a complaint, on the other hand, could leave the party open to a charge of losing its nerve on the issue.

In fact Slugger understands that an individual (as opposed to a political party) has already lodged a complaint with SIPO. However, as Eammon Gilmore points out, in the absence of a clear statement, the Taoiseach is not in a position to prove or disprove the charge, since the Revenue Commissioners are still mulling over whether he is actually in the clear or not. This may be one reason why, so far, he has declined to take any legal action against the Mail on Sunday:

…which first published details of the correspondence between Mr. Ahern’s tax advisers and the Revenue was ‘Revealed: Bertie Lied About Tax’. If this is not accurate then it was a serious libel against Mr. Ahern. Why then has he not initiated legal proceedings against the newspaper concerned?

There is a deal of whispering going on in Dublin political and media circles to the effect that Bertie will not last the month. Presumably that’s premised on the restart of the Dáil taking place on the 30th January. But short of a decisive statement from the Revenue Commissioners, SIPO or the Mahon Tribunal, it is hard to see how anyone in politics can land the final deathly blow.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty