Ahern controversy – Taoiseach must provide every detail

ISSUES revolving around Bertie Ahern’s acceptance of money from business friends are not likely to be resolved by a mere five-minute statement by the Taoiseach and short debate in which party leaders are confined to speak within a similar timeframe.

The Taoiseach must put the story to bed for once and for all with a detailed statement covering all of the issues.

Dáil time must be allocated for a thorough consideration of those issues, not just a few superficial answers only to have other issues crop up that will require a replay in a week or two.

The Taoiseach must explain how the biggest cheque making up the £38,000 from his business friends was drawn on the account of NCB stockbrokers, and he should explain the full circumstances concerning the £8,000 he received in Manchester, as well as the £50,000 that he professes to have saved from 1987 to 1993 when he had no bank account.

This was the period in which some of the worse financial excesses occurred involved Charles Haughey and Ray Burke, as well as the £50,000 that Tom Gilmartin gave to Pádraig Flynn. Remember it was also in this period that the late Mr Haughey referred to Bertie Ahern as “the best, the most skilful, the most devious, and the most cunning”.

Mr Ahern’s image as the Teflon Taoiseach has been damaged by the ham-fisted manner in which the whole controversy was handled last week. The new Tánaiste Michael McDowell’s own dithering dented his reputation for decisiveness. He was slow to ask for a proper explanation as the controversy gathered pace last week. Then on Thursday afternoon he caused a minor political earthquake by saying that there were “very significant matters of concern” that had not been addressed properly. The following day he appeared to back off somewhat by advocating that people act proportionately, as he protested his belief in the Taoiseach’s honesty and decency.

The last comparable political crisis of such magnitude was in 1994 when the Labour Party threatened to pull out of its coalition with Fianna Fáil.

Labour leaders then appeared to back off when they briefly agreed to support the government, only to change their minds again and eventually vote to bring down the government of Albert Reynolds that night. At the time they were demanding “a head” as the only way to save the government. Mr McDowell stated on Friday that he has “an abhorrence of heads on plates” but he added “that also goes for delivering my own head on a plate”.

Therein may lay the sting in the tail. Mr McDowell pulled off a political coup during the general election campaign of 2002 by calling on the electorate not to trust Fianna Fáil with an overall majority.

He promised that the Progressive Democrats would keep an eye on Fianna Fáil in government, and people will inevitably judge him and his party on their conduct in this crisis.

It is not in the national interest that the Taoiseach or anyone else should be railroaded, or treated in any way unfairly, but we must have answers that are as complete as possible.

More in this section