Ahern under pressure over British currency payments
The 26-County Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has come under serious political pressure from his Coalition partners for the first time since the formation of the current Dublin government.
His partners in government, the Greens and the Progressive Democrats, have called on him to explain a series of deposits of British sterling to his building society account while he was Minister for Finance in 1994.
The latest controversy has arisen since the former constituency secretary to Mr Ahern, Grainne Carruth, told the Mahon tribunal on political corruption she now accepted “as a matter of probability” that she had lodged British currency he gave her to his Irish Permanent Building Society account in Drumcondra, Dublin, in 1994.
The lodgements were made three times over an eight-month period and included lodgements to the accounts of Mr Ahern’s two daughters in the same branch.
Mr Ahern told the tribunal during his evidence in February that the lodgements to his and his daughters’ accounts came from his salary as a politician.
No member of his legal team was present at the hearing, in which Carruth appeared on the verge of a breakdown as she was presented with irrefutable evidence that, contrary to her initial account, she had indeed made the deposits on Ahern’s behalf.
The new evidence has followed highly damaging revelations that a large sum of money from Ahern’s local constituency office in Dublin had been directed to an anonymous account and ultimately provided to buy a house on behalf of the aunt of his partner, Celia Larkin. Ahern claimed the money was donated by his Fianna Fail constituency as a charitable act.
Mr Gilmore said the evidence further undermined the credibility of the accounts Mr Ahern had previously given to the tribunal, the Dail and the media.
“We now know that far from being on his financial uppers in the early 1990s, Mr Ahern’s myriad accounts in various financial institutions were awash with money. It now also seems beyond dispute that, despite repeated denials by Mr Ahern, a number of lodgements to his accounts were in sterling,” said the Labour leader.
He said the tribunal and the public were now entitled to know the identity of the benefactors who provided Mr Ahern with these sterling donations and for what purpose the payments were made.
“It is now time for [Tanaiste] Brian Cowen and other senior figures to put loyalty to the country ahead of loyalty to their damaged party leader; it is time to bring this sorry saga to a conclusion, so that the Government and the Dail can now concentrate on dealing with the huge social and economic problems facing us,” Mr Gilmore said.
If Ahern resigns as many are predicting, his deputy, Tanaiste and Minister for Finance Brian Cowan is his likely successor.
However, indications today are that Mr Ahern is sticking by his plan to brazen it out. Despite immense pressure to quit, Ahern is reported to be planning to tell the tribunal he had some of his salary cheques converted into British sterling currency before being reconverted back into Irish currency.
But in an unusual break from quiet support, the leaders of the two smaller parties which sustains Ahern’s coalition have spoken out.
The leader of the Progressive Democrats and Minister for Health Mary Harney said yesterday [Thursday] that there was public disquiet about the revelations “and only the Taoiseach can dispel that public disquiet”.
Minister for the Environment John Gormley has joined Health Minister Mary Harney in calling for the Taoiseach to make a statement on evidence given at the Mahon tribunal last week.
In an address to county councillors in County Meath today, Green Party leader Mr Gormley said it was clear that evidence given by the Mr Ahern’s former secretary Grainne Carruth gave rise to serious issues which need to be clarified.
“There is evidence of growing public interest in this issue, and there are concerns. More information from the Taoiseach would help here,” he said.
Eamon Gilmore said the comments by the two Ministers revealed the first crack in Government support for Mr Ahern. “They are in effect saying the game is up for the Taoiseach,” he added.