Ahern defiant after tribunal findings

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has insisted he never accepted a bribe or corrupt payment after a long-awaited corruption inquiry found he did not tell the truth about a labyrinth of cash payments.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has insisted he never accepted a bribe or corrupt payment after a long-awaited corruption inquiry found he did not tell the truth about a labyrinth of cash payments.

The 15-year Mahon Tribunal did not brand the leader of three Coalition Governments corrupt, but it refused to accept any explanations he offered for a quarter of a million of bank lodgements he made in the early 1990s.

"Much of the explanation provided by Mr Ahern as to the source of the substantial funds identified and inquired into in the course of the tribunal's public hearings was deemed by the tribunal to have been untrue," the report concluded.

But Mr Ahern said the findings were not of a court of law and defended his reputation as having been dedicated to politics and serving the interest of the Irish people in politics.

"I have never accepted a bribe or a corrupt payment," he said.

Mr Ahern said the tribunal had not made - nor could it make - a finding to support the "scurrilous and untrue allegation" that he had been paid off by Cork-based developer Owen O'Callaghan.

"On this key substantive point there is no evidence whatsoever to show I received anything from Mr O'Callaghan," he said.

"Nor could there be because, put simply, this never happened."

Mr Ahern said it was no more than rumour and gossip. But current Taoiseach Enda Kenny said it was without question that the office of leader of the Irish Government had been stained by Mr Ahern's actions.

"The tribunal speaks for itself - a litany of unacceptable statements from the former taoiseach," Mr Kenny said.

The Government is referring the report to the Garda Commissioner, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Revenue Commissioners and the Standards in Public Office Commission.

The ruling national executive of Mr Ahern's Fianna Fáil party will also meet next week to decide proposals by leader Micheal Martin to expel him and other party members named in the report.

Mr Martin said Mr Ahern had betrayed the trust placed in him by his country and his party.

The inquiry itself over 15 years, 900-plus days of public sittings and mind-boggling forensic financial trawls has shamed a series of senior figures in Fianna Fáil, once considered the dominant, establishment party in Irish politics.

Mr Ahern's political legacy has been shattered - none of his evidence for lodgements of more than IR£250,000 between 1993 and 1995 has been accepted. The inquiry also warned it could not find where some money came from.

Tribunal chief Judge Alan Mahon said he could not rule out or establish any basis in the allegations that Mr Ahern had been paid off by Mr O'Callaghan with IR£80,000.

Mr Ahern, ironically the man who ordered the tribunal in 1997, was investigated as the inquiry into planning for a major shopping centre in west Dublin became murkier and murkier.

Mr O'Callaghan was alleged by another developer and former partner, Tom Gilmartin, to have boasted about the pay-off.

It was found evidence by broadcaster Eamon Dunphy that he was told by Mr O'Callaghan that he had "taken care of" Mr Ahern corroborated the allegation.

All of Mr Ahern's explanations for convoluted transactions were branded untrue - wins on the horses, dig-outs from friends, unsolicited handouts from 20 millionaires, six years of savings and refusal to use bank accounts.

Neither could he explain why the money was coming in old Irish punts, Sterling and US dollars.

As for former Cabinet colleagues - three of whom are still in frontline politics including current leader Mr Martin, Willie O'Dea and Eamon O Cuív - they also have serious questions to answer after Judge Mahon's ruling.

The inquiry chief used his final report to launch a withering attack on the ex-ministers who rolled out to defend their taoiseach in his final months as leader.

In one section, he claims his work was savagely attacked and undermined.

"It (the tribunal) came under sustained and virulent attack from a number of senior government ministers who questioned the legality of its inquiries as well as the integrity of its members," the report said.

"It was entirely inappropriate for members of the government to launch such unseemly and partisan attacks against a tribunal of inquiry... to inquire into serious concerns regarding corruption in public life.

"There appears little doubt that the objective of these extraordinary and unprecedented attacks on the tribunal was to undermine the efficient conduct of the tribunal's inquiries, erode its independence and collapse its inquiry into that individual.

"They were as regrettable as they were ill-considered and unfounded."

The tribunal found former minister and European Commissioner Padraig Flynn was corrupt. He took IR£50,000 from a developer who felt under duress and coerced. The money was supposedly for the Fianna Fáil party but went towards buying a farm in Mayo.

Former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was tipped off about the dodgy deal when assembling a Cabinet in 1994 but took no action.

Mr Flynn and three former county councillors also found to have taken corrupt payments face expulsion from Fianna Fáil for conduct unbecoming of the party.

Other Fianna Fail figures named include Liam Lawlor, who died in a car crash in Moscow in 2005, and who was branded corrupt for forcing payments out of Mr Gilmartin as he looked to build around Bachelor's Walk in Dublin city centre.

He claimed to be acting on behalf of the government and took IR£75,000 over 11 months from mid-1988.

Mr Lawlor, who spent six weeks in jail for refusing to co-operate with the tribunal, was also found to have demanded a 20% stake in Quarryvale, where the Liffey Valley shopping centre now stands.

Elsewhere, a Garda investigation in the late '80s was also criticised. The inquiry found that complaints were not thoroughly investigated and that Mr Lawlor's position as a TD may have played a part in a decision not to interview him.

A Garda report went so far to exonerate Mr Lawlor.

In a lengthy statement tonight, Mr Ahern said he will continue to examine ways in which to vindicate his name.

"I am incredulous that the tribunal has made findings rejecting the evidence of a number of individuals - including a number of friends who loaned me money - whose evidence supported mine," he said.

The former taoiseach said his personal finances were "chaotic" and during busy and personally traumatic period in his life, but he had never done anything wrong or illegal.

"I have never received a corrupt payment and I have never done anything to demean any office I have held," he said.

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