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Gambling, lies, whip-arounds and the Teflon Taoiseach: how the world read Mahon

With some bags of cash, secrets and bizarre finances thrown into the mix too.

File photo from the 2000 Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis
File photo from the 2000 Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis
Image: Photocall Ireland

FOR A SMALL country Ireland makes global headlines relatively often, and in recent times, not always for the best of reasons.

Since 2008, the world has associated us with property crashes, bailouts and bad banking. Yesterday, websites in various countries carried details of our former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern and his web of “lies”, “secrets” and “untruths”.

The 15-year-long Mahon Tribunal caught the attention of the international press, and this is what they made of it all:

Reuters ran with the headline Former Irish PM Ahern lied over finances – inquiry and doesn’t hold back on Ahern’s role in Ireland’s current economic crisis:

The verdict comes four years after the economy collapsed under the strain of a decade-long housing and banking boom, cultivated by Ahern and his Fianna Fail party, and a year after the party was thrown from power by an angry electorate.

Similarly, Bloomberg’s initial report led with the header Irish Ex-Premier Ahern’s Money Explanation Untrue, Tribunal Say, but it also brought up Bertie’s claims about winning money “betting on on horses”.

Sticking to that theme, The Press Association remembers the Dublin Castle public hearings as follows:

After revealing a bizarre money trail of whip-arounds from friends, unsolicited payment for a Manchester dinner, wins on the horses, cash savings for property investments, bags of cash and a lack of bank accounts, Mr Ahern’s evidence was turned on its head by his former secretary, Grainne Carruth.

(Remember, they partied).

The BBC also reminds us of Bertie’s nickname, the ‘Teflon Taoiseach’, as it focuses on how he won an unprecedented third term in office as the corruption scandal was engulfing his entire party and Ireland’s political establishment.

Mark Simpson, the BBC’s Irish correspondent also tracks the “spectacular” political fall of the man who went from “hero to zero”. “The tears have turned to jeers,” he writes, before reminding us of Ahern’s words on retiring.

I’ll submit to the verdict of history.

Meanwhile, an opinion piece by Paul Allen carried on ex-pat website Irish Central in the US called the report a “whitewash and a waste of time and money”.

It would be any spin doctor’s daydream to have such unspecific language used against their client. You would think after all the filthy lucre shoveled into the tribunal over the years it could have at least bought a set of teeth. But rather than dishing out a true mauling the best this toothless tiger could muster was a slap on the wrist that more or less accused the former Taoiseach of not playing ball and being a bit of a scallywag.

Bucking the trend, AFP gave the last word to Ahern after its details about the “landmark 15 -year corruption probe”:

He won three successive general elections as head of a coalition government and along with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, helped seal the landmark 1998 Good Friday agreement that brought to an end 30 years of conflict in British-ruled Northern Ireland.

Photographers pulled out their best file images of the former leader with his counterparts. Pictures of Ahern with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the 2007 Rugby World Cup were particularly prevalent across websites.

Image: CHRISTOPHE ENA/AP/Press Association Images

The Washington Post, taking its guidance from the Associated Press, goes with the headline Irish judges rule ex-Prime Minister Bertie Ahern took $276,000 in secret payments.

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The newspaper adds that the former PM also lied repeatedly under oath during the “mammoth fact-finding investigation”, calling his testimony “often bizarre” and “implausible”. The reporter also notes that no Irish politician has ever been convicted of corruption – only a local government planning official – and takes a harsh view on Ireland’s failure to legislate.

Prosecutions are hampered, in part, by the fact that the government passed no credible anti-bribery laws until 1996, leaving tax evasion as the only readily proven offence.

The Associated Press also spoke with Des Peelo, longtime friend and accountant of Mr Ahern. He said that the “fact that something is bizarre does not make it untrue”.

Some aspects of his finances were bizarre.

Writing in The Guardian, Henry McDonald disses almost half the report, stating the document is just 2,000 pages long (we wish!). McDonald, rather succinctly, explains the 15-year-long proceedings:

[It] focused on the dealings of senior members of the Fianna Fáil party and their relationship with property developers who sought to rezone land in north Dublin. As a result of the rezoning, speculators made tens of millions and were later accused of handing over some of their profits to politicians who helped them.

He, like AFP, gave Ahern the last word:

Ahern, who won three terms as taoiseach from 1997, played a key role in shaping the Good Friday agreement and later the 2006 St Andrews agreement, which led to a power-sharing government in Belfast led by Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist party. Ahern has always denied any financial wrongdoing.

The Daily Telegraph in the UK also noted the €300 million cost of the 15-year-long tribunal.

Adding insult to injury for Irish voters, the costs of the 15 year investigation, launched by Mr Ahern in 1997, has been €300 million, a cost of €91,000 for each of the final report’s 3,270 pages.

The Herald Sun in Australia focuses on Ahern’s 15 days of testimony, during which he admitted to “keeping most of the money in personal safes, failing to keep a personal bank account during much of the time under investigation, and failing to pay tax on any of it until uncovered its existence.”

Read: Government will refer Mahon report to DPP, Revenue, Gardaí>

As it happened: Mahon Tribunal rejects Ahern evidence >

In full: Our coverage of the Mahon Tribunal report >

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