But it proved a mere minor interruption and, five years on, he was director for the general election, steering the party into power for a third successive time.
When costs for tribunal witnesses were decided in 2004, it seemed he might be made pay dearly for his less than full co-operation but the tribunal ruled the State should cover the bulk of his £80,000 bill.
Mara was involved in the tribunal because of his relationship with businessmen Oliver Barry and Dermot Desmond, and events surrounding the awarding of the first independent broadcasting licences in the late 1980s.
He was government press secretary from 1987 to 1992, earning £48,000 (€60,000) but was in financial difficulties and accepted ‘loans’ of £2000 from Barry and up to £46,000 from Desmond. The terms, if there were any, and repayments, if there were any, were not recorded.
Meanwhile, Barry was setting up Century Radio with two other men, one a son-in-law of Charles Haughey — a fact hidden from public view — and they needed a licence under a regime established by then communications minister Ray Burke, himself a tribunal regular.
Rumours circulated that Mara and Burke had a “shopping list” of the licences on offer and the prices they wanted paid to ensure they went into the right baskets.
There was the complicating factor of a meeting convened by Desmond between Century and Mara which, according to one account, was to resolve unwarranted demands for a £30,000 payment to Mara but according to Mara, was to discuss him becoming PR advisor to Century for a £60-70,000 salary.
It all sounded very murky but the tribunal was unable to determine the origin or truth of the “shopping list” rumours and no payments to Mara in relation to licences were proven.
It was also unable to determine what happened at the meeting in Desmond’s office owing to “very wide divergences in the accounts”.
The tribunal had sought discovery of his bank accounts to see if they could shed any light on matters and he complied, apart from one in the Isle of Man he “forgot” to disclose.
The tribunal did not believe him and it was for that reason he was deemed not to have co-operated and had some of his costs docked.
But apart from having to pay some of his legal bills, the experience doesn’t seem to have cost him a thought and it certainly didn’t cost him his political career.