Bertie: I had no role in loan to ex-partner's relatives

A former partner of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern received IR£30,000 from Fianna Fáil party funds to help two elderly aunts buy a house in 1993, the Mahon Tribunal heard today.

A former partner of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern received IR£30,000 from Fianna Fáil party funds to help two elderly aunts buy a house in 1993, the Mahon Tribunal heard today.

Stylist Celia Larkin, who was in a relationship with Mr Ahern up to 2003, fully repaid the loan with interest in recent weeks.

Mr Ahern told the Mahon Tribunal, which is investigating planning corruption, that the money came from a fundraising account in his Dublin Central constituency.

The inquiry heard that the owner of the house, in which Ms Larkin’s aunts had lived, suddenly decided to sell the property in 1993.

This caused great distress to the women who eventually succeeded in buying the house for IR£40,000 with the help of the IR£30,000 loan.

Mr Ahern insisted he had no role in arranging the loan which he said was repaid with interest after Christmas.

Ms Larkin’s solicitor Hugh Miller objected to the matter being heard in a private session of the tribunal.

Mr Ahern said the trustees of the constituency account made the decision to give the loan to Ms Larkin.

“They made the decision because it was something they could do to help out a deserving case,” he said.

Mr Ahern is expected to appear as a witness before the tribunal again on these issues, possibly as early as next week.

Earlier, the tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon claimed Mr Ahern’s lawyer had effectively branded the three judges of the inquiry "crooks" who were conducting a "witch-hunt" against him.

In an extraordinary row, Mr Mahon accused Conor Maguire of undermining the Mahon Tribunal’s work by alleging it was biased against Mr Ahern.

He challenged the lawyer to go to the courts if he believed the inquiry was pursuing “an agenda” against the Taoiseach.

Mr Maguire yesterday accused the inquiry of a needless intrusive trawl through the Taoiseach’s personal bank accounts without addressing corruption allegations made against him.

But a clearly furious Mr Mahon said today: “In effect you are saying that we are crooks, that we are conducting a witch-hunt, that we are out to do people in an unconstitutional and criminal way.”

He added: “You are saying in effect that we are corrupt. You are saying that we’re pursuing a twisted, illegal, corrupt frolic and that we’re conducting an agenda.”

Today’s hot-tempered exchanges took place during legal submissions before Mr Ahern resumed his evidence at Dublin Castle. Mr Mahon then said he was adjourning the tribunal for ten minutes “to cool down”.

Mr Maguire had previously claimed the tribunal’s lawyers were pursuing an agenda against his client, Mr Ahern.

Yesterday, he said: “Every day seems to yield the same intrusive inquiries, again and again, going further into details in relation to this man’s bank accounts and further and further away from the central allegations.”

Referring to the witnesses linked to the allegations against the Taoiseach, Mr Maguire added: “I don’t think the words (Tom) Gilmartin or (Owen) O’Callaghan have been mentioned once today.”

Mr Mahon said today that Mr Maguire’s comments alleging bias on the part of the tribunal were “disgraceful”.

In reply to Mr Mahon’s comments, Mr Maguire claimed the judge was putting words into his mouth which he had never uttered.

“I’m not saying that and I didn’t say it and I haven’t said it, and that’s a distortion, chairman,” he said.

Mr Mahon went on to say that he and his two fellow judges at the tribunal had taken sworn oaths of office which were important to them.

Mr Mahon said he rejected any suggestion that he and his fellow judges were “acting in the pockets or under the control” of its lawyers.

Mr Ahern is currently taking a legal challenge against aspects of the inquiry’s work relating to him.

Opposition parties have protested that the Taoiseach’s High Court action will delay the work of the tribunal by at least six months.

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