Micheál Martin launched a calculated attack on Bertie Ahern last night, cutting the former taoiseach loose ahead of the looming Mahon corruption probe judgment on him.
Though he did not refer to Ahern by name, he was clearly the target of Mr Martin’s denunciation of low standards in high office at the opening of Fianna Fáil’s first ard fheis for three years.
Mr Martin pledged “swift and comprehensive” action if Mr Ahern is found to have been involved in wrongdoing by the Mahon inquiry, which is expected to deliver its findings imminently. “When the final report of the Mahon Tribunal is published we will act without fear or favour against anyone who is shown to have abused their position in Fianna Fáil or in elected office. Action will be swift and comprehensive.
“I am determined that the people who belong to Fianna Fáil and support Fianna Fáil will never again be let down by low standards.
“Our members feel let down by people carrying the Fianna Fáil banner who failed to live up to the standards of integrity which our founders set.
“Every time someone brings the name of Fianna Fáil into disrepute because of their personal behaviour, it is our members who are the most hurt and angry,” he said to applause from delegates at the ard fheis.
Among those in the audience was Noel Ahern, the brother of the ex-taoiseach and a former TD, who looked down when the Mahon probe was referred to.
Mr Martin’s attack on the man who led Fianna Fáil for 14 years mirror’s Mr Ahern’s own slapping down of Charles Haughey at the 1997 ard fheis.
Mr Ahern left office early, and under a cloud, over the Mahon probe into numerous sterling and punt lodgements into the 23 bank accounts he operated while finance minister in the early 1990s.
Mr Martin attempted to impose his authority on Fianna Fáil after a stormy few days which saw his leadership abilities called into question, and a bitter public row with Éamon Ó Cuív over Europe which resulted in the former minister being removed as deputy leader of the party.
Mr Ó Cuív, who feared the FF “machine” would try to “blacken” his name, received a reasonably warm applause when he took his seat for Mr Martin’s speech.
Mr Martin said he wanted to end “suspicions” over where Fianna Fáil received its funding from and intended to make it a transparent and open party.
The ard fheis is to debate giving members a one-person, one-vote control over decisions like candidate selection — though that debate will be held in secret with the media banned.
Plans to give grassroots supporters a say in the election of leaders and coalition deals will also feature at the ard fheis where up to 4,000 delegates are set to attend.
Mr Martin lavished praise on Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan for what he called their service to the nation.
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