Bertie will find it difficult to talk himself out of this one

WILL the £66-a-week secretary finally bring Bertie Ahern’s swaying house of financial cards collapsing down around him?

The sight of Gráinne Carruth sobbing in the witness box as she spoke of her “hurt” while repeatedly telling the corruption probe’s judge she wanted to go home after her recollection of lodgments for the Taoiseach were shown to be untrue, was one of the most corrosive testimonies to yet pour down on the Taoiseach’s melting version of events.

The sudden emergence of yet another sterling £15,500 raises serious questions: did the Taoiseach lie under oath when he said only salary cheques went into that account? Who gave him the sterling? Why? And, most importantly, did they expect anything in return for it from the then finance minister?

Money, often in cash and always large denominations, seemed to come easily to Mr Ahern in the mid-1990s, convincing answers as to the source of that money has proved rather more difficult to locate since.

Just when you thought the tribunal couldn’t unleash any more surprises, it did — when, amazingly for this saga, a banker involved actually remembered what had occurred during his watch. Step forward Blair Hughes, who electrified Dublin Castle with his testimony that lodgments from Mr Ahern’s then secretary followed foreign exchange transactions.

How different from the powers of recollection displayed by Ms Carruth as every admission had to be dragged out of her as forcefully as a polite word about Paul McCartney from Heather Mills.

Ms Carruth’s insistence that she still cannot remember paying the sterling amounts in, that Mr Ahern even had an account to pay them into, or that she gave him receipts from the accounts she paid the sterling into for him, drew a stern reminder from the tribunal that those who lie to it face two years in jail.

But then, the mysterious disappearances in the waters of the Bermuda Triangle are matched only by the strange occurrences in a similarly shaped slither of land in north Dublin.

However, the Drumcondra Triangle stretching between St Luke’s and the Irish Permanent branch and down to the AIB on O’Connell Street, eats up memories and receipts, rather than ships and aircraft.

It was deeply uncomfortable viewing watching Ms Carruth squirm in the witness box as she continually spoke in tense, staccato sentences about needing to “protect her children” and “keep this away from her door” while repeatedly telling the judge she just wanted to go home.

However, her genuine anguish seemed centred on her own predicament and the realisation she may have been hung out to dry — despite the loyalty she was displaying to the former boss she always referred to as Bertie.

Ms Carruth cut a pathetic figure in the Mahon corruption probe’s witness box in both dictionary definitions of the word — her emotional upset “provoked pity”, and the huge gaps in her testimony made her memory “appear weak and useless”.

Asked why she had not contacted Mr Ahern after being given documentary proof she had lodged the sterling she previously denied being involved with, Ms Carruth lamented: “Because I’m hurt, I’m hurt and I’m upset. I just want to go home.”

The tribunal judges said they found it difficult to understand how she could remember putting money into the two Irish Permanent accounts for the Ahern daughters, but had no recollection at all of the one in their father’s name, which sucked up the bulk of the cash.

The Taoiseach will no doubt deploy his familiar tactic of pumping as much verbal confusion into the matter as possible, a tactic he excels at in the manner of a bomber pilot spewing chaff into the air to throw off enemy radar.

The question more sharply than ever comes down to the blunt question: is our Taoiseach a liar?

As Winston Churchill once put it: “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”

The often tortuously complicated stories Mr Ahern has paraded through Dublin Castle to explain significant and sustained movement of monies through his bank accounts — which amounted to two and a half times his known income in one 12-month period — has left a public increasingly sceptical of his truthfulness, but strangely lethargic to do anything about it.

Will this herald the arrival of the long-anticipated killer blow for the Taoiseach? The contradictions in evidence appear gaping and must surely contract the length of his exit strategy. It also seriously deepens the wounds as he staggers on to next month’s historic address to the US Congress.

The cards are falling, and not in his favour.

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