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What exactly did the Mahon Tribunal find against Bertie Ahern?

The former Taoiseach recently walked out of an interview after being asked about the Tribunal’s findings.

bertie Bertie cut the interview short with German TV Source: DW English/Youtube

OVER SIX YEARS after it delivered its report on Bertie Ahern, the Mahon Tribunal is being talked about again since the former Taoiseach walked out of a German TV interview after being questioned over it.

Appearing uncomfortable at the line of questioning following earlier discussions about the Good Friday Agreement, Ahern said he was quite happy that he has cleared his name and that he was very happy with his evidence to the Tribunal.

When pressed, he maintained: “I’ve dealt with that issue and I am not saying any more about that issue.”

Shortly afterwards, he cut the interview short, saying he was there to talk about the Good Friday Agreement and had done so.

So, what exactly did the Mahon Tribunal find against Bertie Ahern? Let’s take a look back…

Why was the Mahon Tribunal set up?

It may have delivered its final report in March 2012, but the Tribunal was actually set up by Dáil Eireann in 1997 to investigate allegations of corrupt payments to politicians over planning decisions.

Initially, it began investigating claims of payments to Fianna Fáil Minister Ray Burke. Although Burke denied the allegations, he resigned from Cabinet and the Dáil.

Following on from hearings into this and other planning matters, the Tribunal began to look into claims made about Bertie Ahern.

It would later go on to find that 11 councillors in the Dublin area had taken corrupt payments over planning issues.

Why was Bertie involved?

Allegations began to surface midway through the 2000s that Ahern had received payments from developer Owen O’Callaghan.

After it began to be reported widely in the press about these allegations, the then-Taoiseach was interviewed on RTÉ News by Bryan Dobson in 2006.

Source: RTENewsNow/YouTube

In it, he rejected all the claims made against him of corruption, of accepting bribes and of wrongfully accepting money.

He detailed an event where a group of personal friends had raised thousands of pounds for him while he was going through a divorce in 1993.

“I’ve broken absolutely no codes, ethical, tax, legal or otherwise,” he said.

This interview did little to deter the political pressure now being put on him and he would eventually be called to give evidence at the Mahon Tribunal as it looked into the claims.

What did he say?

Giving evidence over the course of 15 days at the Tribunal in September 2007, Ahern was pressed on a number of occasions about his financial affairs in the 1990s.

He persisted that he never “took a bribe or a backhander or anything from anybody”.

He was asked about not having a bank account for a number of years including during the period when he served as Minister for Finance, and said there was “nothing in the law or the constitution” that he had to have one.

The Taoiseach did describe receiving a sum of money from a number of rich businessmen after speaking at a Manchester hotel, and also winning money through gambling on horses.

At all times, he maintained he had never done anything wrong.

Despite this however, the increasing pressure that came after he gave evidence refused to go away. He stepped down as Taoiseach in 2008, and as a TD in 2011.

What did it find against him?

In its final report in March 2012, the Mahon Tribunal rejected much of Ahern’s evidence.

While it accepted his claim that he didn’t have a bank account for years between 1987 and 1993, it rejected his assertion that he had built up around £54,000 in savings by the time.

In all, the Tribunal said that he did not truthfully account for payments of £165,000 made to accounts connected to him.

This included the Manchester dinner with Irish businessmen, where the Tribunal rejected the assertion that two-thirds of the £24,838 figure mentioned was in punts. The Mahon Tribunal said it was solely a Sterling payment of £25,000, and suggesting that Ahern had not been truthful in his evidence.

Separately, based on evidence from broadcaster Eamon Dunphy, the Tribunal said it was satisfied that developer Owen O’Callaghan had inferred to Dunphy that Ahern had received payments to ensure certain tax statuses for two major shopping centre developments.

It found that O’Callaghan had indicated that he generally found it necessary to engage in corruption in order to develop property in Dublin, and implied he had “taken care” of Ahern and given an inducement of some sort in return for a favour.

The Tribunal said this corroborated evidence from another developer, Tom Gilmartin, that O’Callaghan had personally implied the use of corrupt payments, including to Ahern.

However, the Tribunal did not label Ahern as “corrupt”.

In a statement following its publication, the former Taoiseach said that the “Tribunal has not made – nor could it make – a finding to support the scurrilous and untrue allegation” that he had received a corrupt payment from O’Callaghan.

Despite this, Ahern resigned from the Fianna Fáil party soon after the report came out and has been largely absent from political life since.

In recent months, however, speculation has emerged that Ahern could be considering running for the presidency of Ireland.

This was put to him just before he cut the interview with German TV short when the interviewer noted: “You’re somebody who wants to come back, maybe as president. These are issues in the public domain.”

Ahern replied: “That’ll be for another day.”

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Sean Murray

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