Yesterday, the Mahon tribunal revisited the ripping yarn of how the former taoiseach came by his house in Drumcondra in the late 1990s. Oh, but we could listen all day to his tangled accounts of fit-outs and dig-outs, conservatories and bedroom arrangements.
Of course, they make no sense whatsoever to anyone with half a brain, but never mind that. Tribunal regulars know that the only way to get through a day of evidence from Bertie Ahern is to suspend disbelief – as if enjoying a good farce – and settle down to some cracking entertainment.
The plot is well rehearsed at this stage, but it gains in the retelling. Certainly, Bertie Ahern never tires of telling it and he usually throws in a new angle to keep the action fresh. Enter the last will and testament of Micheál Wall.
In 1996, the Manchester businessman signed a document leaving 44 Beresford to his then tenant, Ahern. In the event of him pre-deceasing Wall, the property was to pass to his two daughters.
Bequeathing a whole house to somebody is a big decision to make. Just 10 years after willing a fine one in Drumcondra to the most successful Irish politician of the modern era, Micheál Wall couldn’t recall doing it. At least that’s what he told the tribunal.
And his charmed beneficiary, Bertie Ahern, never had a clue about what his friend had done for him.
At least that’s what he told the tribunal.
At last, though, there’s a glimpse of a possible alternative version of events.
Henry Murphy SC, for the tribunal, offered a very plausible reason why Wall might have left the Drumcondra house to Bertie.
“He would be concerned, after a serious accident, that if anything happened to him, that Beresford should go to you and not into his estate?” Particularly “if, in fact, he bought it with your money, so that it was really yours from the beginning. It would make sense to make the will?” True, agreed Bertie, except “that isn’t what happened”. The best explanation the witness managed was that maybe Wall wanted to make sure that his friend had every opportunity to buy his house should he pass away. The fact that he wouldn’t have had to purchase it was dismissed by Bertie, who insisted he would not have accepted the bequest.
“I would have been duty-bound to buy it off his wife.” In the same way, presumably, that the dig-out money he got from friends were “debts of honour”, duly repaid when the tribunal began asking questions.
Bertie said he believed Micheál Wall’s evidence. Although earlier, he told the tribunal his friend had knowingly misled it when giving evidence about the number of times he stayed in the house he had bought, then let, to his friend.
Having purchased the four-bedroom property and rented it to Bertie, who had an “informal” option to purchase it, the two agreed that Wall would stay in it on trips to Dublin.
But the ex-pat businessman said he didn’t stay in it between 1996 and 1998. This isn’t true, explained Bertie.
Wall told him afterwards that he said this in his sworn testimony “because he didn’t want to get into the issue of whose bedroom he was in. Back to bedrooms – that’s why he didn’t want to get into that.” Ears pricked up in the chamber. What was Ahern implying? As the only resident, what did it matter what room his friend occupied? And then Bertie snorted: “He was never in my bedroom.” There was sniggering in the public gallery and a voice piped up from the body of the hall. “Are you sure?” Bertie snapped: “Positive!” He was trying the old bedroom trick again, but the prurience card is well overplayed at this stage.
There would be no Fianna Fáil Ministers out on the plinth this time roaring about distasteful intrusions into his private life.
The financing and doing up of the nearly new house was revisited earlier in the day, and it sounded as daft as ever.
It was all to do with Bertie “formalising” himself prior to his elevation. This meant acquiring a house at all costs, moving around large sums of cash in bewildering rounds of bank transactions and entering into a bizarre house- share arrangement with his friend when he had more than enough cash in reserve to buy himself one.
It meant sinking at least £34,000 into a property which Micheál Wall had no obligation to sell him. He was happy to share with Bertie, as he would soon be taoiseach, with Garda protection.
“Micheál Wall had a bit of a thing about security, for obvious reasons, because he had a fairly large business,” explained Ahern.
Security didn’t appear a factor for Wall when he travelled across on the ferry to bring his pal a suitcase stuffed with stg£30,000 in cash, leaving it overnight in his wardrobe in the Aisling Hotel while he went to a dinner-dance.
Bertie, by the way, said yesterday he was “surprised” to get that too.