Wednesday, December 05, 2007

INSIDE POLITICS - THE JOHN REID OF THE IRISH CABINET

After the uber-loyal deputy for Tippeary South Martin Mansergh, there is no greater or more loyal defender of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern than the Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern. As he has risen through the Fianna Fail ranks to become one of the Taoiseach’s closest allies, Dermot Ahern has assumed the kind of role that former Northern Ireland Secretary and Home Secretary John Reid played on behalf of Tony Blair – Cabinet enforcer and bruiser-in-chief.

Whenever Bertie Ahern is in trouble, it is the man whom Pat Rabbitte once dubbed as the “boot boy from Dundalk” who comes out to bat and bludgeon on his behalf.
On yesterday’s Morning Ireland on RTE, his quarry was principally the errant Cork backbencher Noel O’Flynn who was in his sights.

He was first asked about O’Flynn’s call on the Taoiseach to issue a statement.

What Dermot Ahern said:
“I totally disagree with Noel O’Flynn. I do not know what he is talking about. The Taoiseach has given 18 hours of evidence when he was asked. Not one scintilla of an allegation of corruption, or of anything, has been made against him”.


Does this stand up?
He did give 18 hours of evidence but not in relation to the issue brought up by O’Flynn- namely stockbroker Pádraic O’Connor’s claim that he was not a friend of the Taoiseach (as the Taoiseach claimed) and that the money he gave was not a loan, but a political donation. No allegation of corruption has been made. But even after giving 18 hours of evidence, many questions remain about the Taoiseach’s personal finances. The principal one that hangs is the identity of the mystery person whom he got to purchase £30,000 sterling on his behalf in 1994.

Was Pádraic O’Connor a friend of Bertie Ahern’s?
What Dermot Ahern said:
“I suggest that Noel O’Flynn read the transcripts. I have seen quotes from Mr O’Connor’s evidence where he said he was actually very friendly with Bertie Ahern and was honoured that Bertie Ahern would ask him for his advice in relation to financial matters.
Bertie subsequently appointed him to a position of great trust but his evidence was peppered throughout by the quote that he was very friendly with the Taoiseach.
And he said ultimately that it was a question of semantics about what kind of friend (he was).
To be honest, I can’t really say other than it would appear as far as Taoiseach was concerned, he the Taoiseach understood it to be a personal donation.”


Does this stack up?
No. This is a very tendentious reading of the evidence. Throughout, Pádraic O’Connor insisted that he did not consider himself to be a friend of Bertie Ahern’s. It was only when he was cross-examined by Des Richardson’s counsel Jim O’Callaghan that he accepted that he had been ‘friendly’ with Ahern, but on a professional basis.
It is a leap of imagination to put this on the same platform as friendship – the basis on which Bertie Ahern said that his “close personal friends” including Mr O’Connor had made the dig-out loans to him. And O’Connor’s evidence was not peppered with reference to him being friendly with Taoiseach Ahern.

The Foreign affairs was then asked about the inconsistency of the Taoiseach referring to O’Connor in the same breath as other supporters.

What Dermot Ahern said:
“There may have been some misunderstanding about it but does it really matter ultimately. There are no allegations of any favours asked or given, no allegations of corruption. I mean people are trying to chip away at the Taoiseach. To my mind anybody who is attacking him is not worth or isn’t able to tie his shoelaces."


Does this stack up?
Well he makes no political points there, and there are no allegations of corruption. But it does matter ultimately. Because there are major issues with a Minister for Finance taking large amounts of money above and beyond his salary. And there are major issues also surrounding a full and honest account.

The Phoenix Park casino allegations.
What Dermot Ahern said:
“The Taoiseach is confirming what he said in an interview with the Pat Kenny Show many years ago. (He said) good bad or indifferent, it’s Fianna Fáil policy that this casino would not get permission, would not get a licence, that we would not change the legislation.
This is a terrible smear to be honest because the Taoiseach was vehemently against it, so what are they alleging?"


Does this stack up?
He gave that interview on June 2 1997. It’s always been known that he came out against the Phoenix Park casino in the run-up to the 1997 election. His spokesman also said this week that he came out against it in the 1996 by-election in Dublin West. However, there remains a doubt that he may have been ambiguous about it before that. And he did accept the hospitality of one of the main backers, Norman Turner, by flying to Manchester to see Manchester United games. He says nothing turned on that.

2 comments:

Dan Sullivan said...

I'm a little unclear on one aspect of all this and that is whether there is a tax liability for the Taoiseach in this which is that if the money from O'Connor was understood this to be a gift though one to FF generally and that I think doesn't incur any tax.

However, the money actually went to Bertie personally and it is obvious to me from what O'Connor says that there was no loan agreement made out, no payment schedule no interest rate agreed so that is a personal gift and that has a tax implication.

Savannah said...

Well said.