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Irish Times accuses Bertie of taking us for fools…’complete fools’

February 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments · Irish Politics, Tribunals

There are editorials and then there are editorials…

Today’s Irish Times

Trials and tribulations

The Taoiseach would have the public believe he is anxious to answer all and every question from the Mahon tribunal concerning his unorthodox financial affairs while minister for finance, as well as deal comprehensively with a series of statements he made publicly and in the Dáil on these matters. Does he take us for complete fools? The latest High Court action launched by Mr Ahern has been specifically designed to prevent tribunal lawyers asking him awkward or damaging questions.

It is a shabby and demeaning business. It puts further strain on the growing credibility problem the Taoiseach has with a bemused electorate. And it poses risks to the authority of Government. The High Court challenge would appear, at least in part, to be a time-buying exercise designed to spin out and neutralise the effects of a robust investigation into the Taoiseach’s extraordinary financial dealings. If a judgment is appealed to the Supreme Court, the work of the tribunal could be delayed by at least six months and probably longer.

Just two weeks ago, under pressure from Opposition parties, the Coalition Government voted confidence in the work of the Mahon tribunal; noted its rising costs and extensive agenda, and urged it to complete its work expeditiously so that the Dáil could debate its conclusions. That formal position flies in the face of the extra costs and delays that are now likely to transpire because of the Taoiseach’s actions. Was the Cabinet informed of this imminent court challenge?

In 2006, the Mahon tribunal drew the Taoiseach’s attention to what it believed were factually erroneous statements made by him to the Dáil and elsewhere on payments into his accounts. And it signalled a desire to examine in detail two specific payments that may have involved $45,000 and £25,000 sterling. Mr Ahern is disputing the contentions of the tribunal in these matters and, in heated evidence given before Christmas, he accused its lawyers of “trying to stitch him up”.

The Taoiseach’s explanations of his financial dealings have been contradictory and, at times, partial. He has adopted a strategy designed to confuse and obfuscate. It is the clear duty of the tribunal, appointed by the Oireachtas to investigate planning matters involving some of its own members, to follow the money trail. Dáil privilege was hardly designed to prevent a review of his public explanations, but Mr Ahern could still win the case. The High Court challenge has been justified on the grounds that legal advice made it impossible for him to do otherwise. That is self-serving cant. Legal advice is simply that – advice – and it can be accepted or rejected.

A similarly legalistic approach was adopted by Cardinal Connell when opposing the release of contentious sexual abuse files from the Dublin archdiocese. But he was prevailed upon to change his mind in the interest of the greater good. The Taoiseach would do politics a service by following that example. The sooner these issues are disposed of, the better.



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