On Bertie’s last years in power…

Green Senator Dan Boyle has been talking out school it seems. Speaking on Newstalk, he suggested that Bertie Ahern is on the same limited time as his old buddy Tony Blair:

“He won’t be putting himself forward as Taoiseach at the next general election. We’re now in a period of time that we have to find out, discover from the Taoiseach himself, when he feels his time for leaving within this period of Government is. We’re probably coming close to a time when his own party colleagues will look for finality on that. . . We don’t have a direct role in deciding who the leader of Fianna Fáil is.

But, inside the Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole has collated a bunch of information taken from Bertie’s own utterances inside the Dail and to the Tribunal that could spell an earlier rather than a later departure for the Teflon Taoiseach.

Bertie Ahern became treasurer of Fianna Fáil on January 28th, 1993, though he had informally assumed the role in the latter months of 1992. When he took on the job, the party was broke. So broke that Ahern took two drastic actions. The first, as he told the Dáil in 1999, was to stop constituency fundraising: “Early in my term as treasurer we suspended local activities in constituencies so the money could go to the national organisation, which was in a poor financial state.”

The second was to ask party workers to dig into their own pockets to bail out Fianna Fáil. “We set up . . . a loan scheme whereby party workers were asked to donate funds to put party finances in order . . . the scheme raised approximately £300,000. The majority of this money was by way of direct contributions and the balance was by way of interest-free loans.”

1. He received a cheque for £5,000 in December 1993. The donor is unknown, but the money came from a company rather than an individual. It was, according to Ahern, a “political donation for my personal use”, but we know this money was not a personal gift. Otherwise, Ahern, as minister for finance, would surely have declared it to the Revenue. It was therefore intended for political use. But Ahern took half of it as cash and used the other half to open a building society account “for the purpose of saving money so that when I wanted a mortgage I could get one”.

2. £30,000 was withdrawn from the so-called B/T account in March 1993 and given to Ahern’s partner Celia Larkin towards the purchase of a house in her name. This money unquestionably belonged to Fianna Fáil. Ahern described it as “a Dublin Central constituency account in the name of Tim Collins . . . this was a Fianna Fáil account and it was administered by Fianna Fáil”.

3. Further, unquantified, sums of money given to the party for political purposes also found their way into Bertie Ahern’s pocket. He accepted at the tribunal that he “regularly received political donations which were to be understood as being capable of being used for personal purposes”.

On the Taoiseach’s own evidence, therefore, he and his partner received significantly more than £35,000 from monies that were raised by or donated to Fianna Fáil – well in excess of 10 per cent of the money that the party was simultaneously raising from its activists in donations and soft loans.

Considering the pressure currently on the Speaker of the House of Commons over £4,000 of taxi rides, this looks serious. The difference is that this a party matter. But, O’Toole notes, there is at least one precedent that will make some party loyalists squirm:

On his [Ahern’s] direct instructions, the party general secretary wrote on October 6th, 1998, to Pádraig Flynn. An allegation had emerged that Flynn had received a donation from Tom Gilmartin which he had failed to pass on to the party. The letter stated that “the trustees of the party have various legal and fiduciary duties towards the membership of the party. These duties include an obligation to ascertain whether funds were given to any person with the intention that these funds were to be applied for the benefit of the Fianna Fáil party.” A party investigation into the matter was a “legal necessity”.

Hmmm…

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