It is worth noting that in relation to Philip Murphy’s testimony at the Mahon Tribunal, and the loan application form filled out by him for Ahern, that some issues arise.
Ahern says on the application that he is the ‘owner’ of St Luke’s, and that it is worth, in 1995, some £90,000. This forms part of his retrospective loan application for almost £20,000, which he received on December 23rd 1993.
But in the book by Ken Whelan and Eugene Masterson it is clearly stated that St Luke’s was bought via other means, and organised by Des Richardson. Strangely, the house was bought for £57,000 in the mid-80s, and another £50,000 was spent on refurbishing the house. Yet it was only valued by Ahern at £90,000 some eight years later.
But in another apparent digout, 25 people donated £1,000 each towards the cost of buying the house. A house that Ahern called his home on the application form, his residential address for eight years. Not alone that, but donations were made in subsequent years towards the outstanding mortgage. A house that Ahern lived in up to him moving to Beresford.
Say Messrs Whelan and Masterson:
To finance the purchase, they [(former Senator Tony) Kett and Kiely] brought together 25 local well-to-do supporters who pledged £1,000 each, with further contributions over a five year period. This was sufficient to put together a mortgage for the house with the repayments paid through the constituency organisation’s own bank.
The purchase price in the mid-80’s was £57,000. The house was assigned to a group of five trustees – again, not party activists – who for legal purposes vested the property in the Dublin Central Fianna Fail organisation.
So who owns the house? Fianna Fail?
Another thing that strikes me is that Ahern calculates that his pay, the Party Leader’s Allowance (abused for so long by Haughey thanks to blank cheques from Ahern), plus his TD salary (he ceased being Minister in December 1994), amounted to £200,000. An extraordinary sum by any means.
And why say he only had £5,000 in his Permanent TSB account when the figure was closer to £33,000?
Another point arises. In his interview with Brian Dobson last year, Ahern said:
Well what he, he raised, should I say first of all they offered, eh, they came to me a month earlier, my High Court case which had been dragged out, I separated in 1987 and I had been in the High Court a number of times in 1993 and it concluded in November 1993. Em, Gerry Brennan came to me and he said that, em, they wanted to raise a function for me. Em, 1,000 a head, 25-30 people. I said no, I wasn’t going to do that, that was personal [ indistinct].
Anyone does that it’s for politics, so I refused. So then unknown to me he went to personal friends of mine, Paddy Reilly, Des Richardson, Pádraig O’Connor, Jim Nugent, David McKenna, Fintan Gunne, who is deceased, Mick Collins, Charlie Chawke, all personal friends of mine. And they gave me 22,500 either Christmas Eve or Stephen’s Day in 1993.
Dobson : That was to settle, at that stage, your legal bills?
Ahern : It was, they, they knew, a good few of them knew that I had taken out a loan with AIB in O’Connell Street to settle my legal bills. I had taken out the loan so I actually used the loan to settle the bills. Em, I didn’t want to take the money, I took it on the agreement, it was Gerry Brennan and Des Richardson, I didn’t deal with them all, they gave me the 22,500 and I said that I would deal, take this as a debt of honour, that I would repay it in full, that I would pay interest on it. I know the tax law, I’m an accountant. And, em, that I would pay that back in, in full and at another date when I could.
So Gerry Brennan went and did a whip around for money. Because Ahern was in a bad way financially. First off, one of the men mentioned, Padraig O’Connor, has since claimed that he is not a personal friend of Ahern, that he paid over the £5,000 (the bank draft made out to Des Richardson) on the understanding it was going to Ahern’s constituency operation. This money came from the firm O’Connor worked for, NCB Stockbrokers, but is thought to have totaled £6,050 and made payable to a firm called Euro Work Force, for providing health and safety consultancy.
The £2,500 was a cheque again from Richardson, via Willdover limited, one of Richardson’s companies. (Incidentally, Richardson said earlier this year that Fianna Fail was paying £5,000 a month to Willdover, for fundraising work). It should be pointed out that Ahern himself lodged this cheque into AIB on either December 23 or 30, 1993. As far back as 2002, the Sunday Business Post asked the Taoiseach directly about Willdover and the response was stark:
Detailed questions were submitted to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern concerning Richardson’s fundraising work for the party and regarding Willdover.
However, his spokesman did not provide answers and referred the questions to Fianna Fáil. She declined to say whether this decision had been made by the Taoiseach.
Aside from fundraising matters, Ahern did not respond to questions from this newspaper regarding taxation issues relating to Richardson’s work for Fianna Fáil.
The other £15,00 was cash, apparently from the other men in total. What’s at issue here is the timing. Ahern is saying he got the money after the 23rd. The tribunal is wondering why, if he knew nothing about the whip around, an SSA declaration was signed by him on December 23rd. And if it was a debt of honour, what exactly did he need the ‘loan’ for? It sat in his SSA account, and was subsequently topped up later in 1994 to the £50,000 limit. His legal bills were paid, he had a moratorium on repayments, what exactly was the problem?