Martin: Achievements 'cannot absolve' Ahern

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said that the achievements of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern while in office "cannot absolve him" from facing the implications of the Mahon tribunal report.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin has said that the achievements of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern while in office "cannot absolve him" from facing the implications of the Mahon tribunal report.

Speaking at a press conference this morning, Mr Martin said that the findings of the tribunal in relation to Mr Ahern are "very serious".

"Although the central allegation against Bertie Ahern was not sustained, the evidence confirmed by the Tribunal and its comments relating to him are extremely serious," Mr Martin said.

He said that the fact the explanations given to the tribunal by Mr Ahern were untrue "cannot be ignored".

"No matter how high a member rises within the party and in elected office, they still carry a duty of trust for the members of Fianna Fáil and for the people who elected them," he said.

"Achievements like the Good Friday Agreement are real and enduring but they cannot absolve Bertie Ahern from facing the implications of this report.

"The motion of expulsion which will be voted on next Friday is the only route available to us to assert the fact that he fell short of the standard of personal behaviour which all holders of public office should uphold."

While the tribunal's final report published yesterday did not find evidence of corruption involving Mr Ahern, 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.

Motions to expel Mr Ahern from Fianna Fáil, as well as former minister Padraig Flynn and three former councillors, will be taken up by the party's National Executive on Friday.

The Mahon tribunal found Mr Flynn had “wrongly and corruptly” sought a IR£50,000 payment from Tom Gilmartin in 1994 – used to buy a farm in Co Mayo in his wife Dorothy’s name.

"There is no circumstance in which the cheque received by Padraig Flynn could be justified," Mr Martin said today.

"The evidence is clear and a motion to expel him from membership will also be taken up next Friday."

Mr Martin also said that Fianna Fáil would conduct a formal root and branch review and restructuring of the organisation in the Dublin Central consistituency.

Referring to tribunal statements in relation to criticism of its work by Ahern-era Cabinet ministers, Mr Martin said "this is not a finding of the Tribunal and no specifics whatsoever are presented in relation to it".

In a section headlined “Integrity and Independence of the Tribunal” Judge Alan Mahon had claimed his work was savagely attacked and undermined.

“In 2007/2008 at a time when this Tribunal was inquiring into matters relating to Bertie Ahern... it 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.

"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."

Mr Martin today said that while he took this comment seriously, the report "provides no details upon which a response can be given".

He said it was not up to others to decide what instances the tribunal wass specifically referring to.

"It is to be assumed that the Tribunal does not view all criticism of its work as unacceptable," Mr Martin added.

The Fianna Fáil leader concluded by saying that he understood and shared the anger felt by people over the report.

"I acknowledge that people have heard similar commitments from my party before, but my message to them is I understand the scale of the challenge we face rebuilding trust with people and there is nothing I take more seriously," he said.

"The actions I have outlined last night and this morning represent a swift and comprehensive response to the report and I intend that we will continue to push forward measures to restore public faith in political life."

The Fianna Fáil leader denied his move to expel a predecessor was about personal political advantage and said next Friday’s vote was not a foregone conclusion.

“The motivation for recommending the motion next week was based on the evidence of the tribunal, nothing more, nothing less,” he argued.

“There’s nothing macho about this.

“I don’t like being in the position as leader of the party of having to recommend this.

“It’s a very dark day for the party when you have to recommend the expulsion of your former leader. It’s nothing natural in that. It’s something I would not normally like to do.

“It’s based on the evidence of the tribunal.”

Mr Martin said he had not spoken to Mr Ahern at or since his party’s Ard Fheis last month, when he distanced himself from the scandals and told his party faithful they would not be let down again by low standards.

He admitted he was wrong to publicly state that he believed Mr Ahern’s evidence at the time, and called comments by former minister Willie O’Dea against the tribunal unwise.

And he said he was saddened that the traditions of the founding fathers Fianna Fáil had been damaged and undermined by people who abused their position and abused public trust in them.

“It’s bad day for politics,” he said.

“I condemn unreservedly the actions of those have been found to be corrupt by the tribunal.

“I’m very, very upset and angry as well in terms of how people did abuse their position and I think that is why we need to change what we do in terms of fundraising.”

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