Ahern faces political demise

Ahern faces political demise

Three-time taoiseach Bertie Ahern was tonight on the verge of an ignominious political demise as once-loyal supporters warned they could no longer defend the indefensible.

Insiders spoke of a party in disarray as it prepared a clear-out and an attempted clean-up of the mess left by what an investigating judge called rampant corruption in Irish politics.

“You defend your leader until it becomes indefensible,” a party source said. “Bertie always had an excuse and you juxtaposed what you heard at the tribunal with the man you knew. But in the end it became impossible to believe him.”

But Fianna Fáil stalwarts were quick to defend current Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and surviving members of Mr Ahern’s Cabinet Willie O’Dea and Eamon O Cuiv, who still sit in the Dáil.

Despite the scandalous revelations from Mahon, Fianna Fáil’s justice spokesman Dara Calleary denied that permanent damage has been done to the party.

He argued that Fianna Fáil is now completely different from Mr Ahern’s era.

“We have thousands of members around the country,” said Mr Calleary. “They are decent, ordinary hard-working people. We have had issues but we’ve completely changed our party.”

The report fired a damning broadside at some of Mr Ahern’s Cabinet colleagues - some on the current frontbench – accusing them of attacking and trying to derail the tribunal in support of their leader.

But the party source said not all individuals in Fianna Fáil should be tarred with the one brush.

The future of the party itself hangs in the balance as senior figures meet and veterans scramble to respond to the stark revelations outlined in the Mahon report.

“It‘s unacceptable, it’s intolerable,” the source said.

Mr Ahern faces expulsion from the party, while Mr Martin – who has promised swift action without fear or favour – will be anxious to demonstrate a sea change.

But the source, recognising his former leader‘s political nous, would not rule out Mr Ahern walking from the party before being expelled.

“I wouldn’t be sure, but there’s always a chance,” he said.

Top party officials will meet tonight to discuss how it plans to deal with the revelations outlined in the eagerly-anticipated report.

The former taoiseach was forced to resign from the post in 2008 as the scandal over allegations at Mahon grew and grew, but he has remained a member of the party.

He attended the Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis annual gathering earlier this month where, in an ironic twist, current leader Mr Martin made a point in his keynote speech of focusing on renewal and moving away from old party practices.

Former party TDs Liam Lawlor and Padraig Flynn were found corrupt by the tribunal.

The late Mr Lawlor, who died in a car crash in 2005, spent six weeks in jail for failing to cooperate with questioning.

He was branded corrupt after investigators found he forced payments out of developers looking to build in Dublin city centre.

Mr Flynn was also found to have accepted payments from property developer Tom Gilmartin, which he used for his own benefit.

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