Ahern apology preserves Dublin government
Ahern apology preserves Dublin government

The 26-County Prime Minister, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is set to continue in office with the support of his coalition partners after he made a public apology for receiving payments from business figures while serving as Minister for Finance in 1993.

The Tanaiste and leader of the Progressive Democrats Michael McDowell backed the Taoiseach by saying that he had accounted for the matter and that he is "fit to continue in office".

In a statement released tonight, Mr McDowell described Mr Ahern's actions as "an error of judgment", and said his party could "do nothing practical" in the situation.

Mr McDowell said: "It would be unreasonable for the Progressive Democrats to surrender our mandate and to bring about a one-party Government until the next election by resigning office as some form of political gesture.

"Such a gesture would fly in the face of reason and common sense and of the common good, and would do nothing practical for the vindication of standards in Irish political life.

"We look forward to putting these events behind us and to completing our term of office," the statement concluded.

Speaking to the Dublin parliament and live on national television, Mr Ahern earlier said he had not been in any breach of law or code of conduct.

"I now regret the choices I made in those difficult and dark times. The bewilderment caused to the public about recent revelations have been deeply upsetting for me and others near and dear to me.

"To them ... to the Irish people, to this house I offer my apologies," the Taoiseach concluded.

Mr Ahern insisted that the Manchester money was a gift because he had not gone to Manchester in a Ministerial capacity. He added that the money was not liable for tax as it fell short of the gift tax ceiling that was applicable that year.

It also emerged this weekend that Mr Ahern repaid loans he took from a group of friends when he was going through his marriage separation in 1993 and 1994. He is reported to have issued cheques totalling over O90,000 - when interest is taken into account - to cover the loans.

Sinn Féin's Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain TD told the Dail that this Government should go, 'the sooner the better'.

Saying the Taoiseach was 'clearly wrong to accept the personal donation' in Manchester, Deputy O Caolain nevertheless warned against letting the 'events of the last week...distract us from this Government's long-standing political bankruptcy, and that is something that no whip-round will be able to remedy'.

Mr O Caolain said an old saying about the British journalist could be adapted to this government: "You cannot hope to bribe or twist, thank God, the British journalist But seeing what the man will do, unbribed, there's no occasion to."

The leader of the opposition Fine Gael, Enda Kenny, said today was a "bad day for accountability and a good day for cynicism and hypocrisy".

Responsing to Mr Ahern's statement, Mr Kenny said: "When you put your hand on the money as Minister for Finance you were wrong. I thought the culture of old Fianna Fail was gone but it seems to be back again.

The Labour party leader, Pat Rabitte, was among those who raised questions regarding the Taoiseach's avoidance of bank accounts for several years while accumulating a large cash sum.

"One would have to believe in the tooth fairy to believe the Taoiseach," he said.

Despite Mr Ahern's dramatic apology and pained explanations, his reputation has been damaged by the affair. However, with the strong support of Fianna Fail backbenchers (and a group of independents with links to the party) his continuation in office, and that of his coalition government, appears increasingly likely.

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© 2006 Irish Republican News