Did you know (2)

In May 1993 when Bertie Ahern was Minister for Finance there was a very curious scandal.

The Government sold its 30.4% stake in Greencore to investors for £70m. £100m was raised around the same time from a sale of the Government’s stake in Irish Life.

Greencore management had supported the idea of selling shares to US investors Arther Daniels Midland, but a decision was later taken by Ahern to sell the shares on the open market, and British and Irish institutions. It was said that Ahern could not convince his cabinet colleagues (the Labour ones) of the merits of the ADM investment.

The 25.4 million shares were placed on the stock market by Davy Stockbrokers.

But a couple of weeks later, it emerged that the Directors of Davy had themselves bought shares in Greencore to the tune of £19m. Four companies directly associated with Davy and four of its directors acquired 4.5m shares of Greencore at a cost of £12.4m. A further 2.5m shares worth £6.9m were held on their behalf by British investment firm SG Warburg.

Two million more shares were sold to an account in Bank of Ireland Private Bannking held by three Davy directors – Brian Davy, Kyran McLaughlin and Tony Garry. Another two million were sold to Gandon, a financial services firm in which Mr McLaughlin, Mr Davy and Mr David Shubotham have a combined 18% stake. Smaller amounts were sold to Corder investments a company owned by Mr McLaughlin and to a Davy pension fund.

Mc McLaughlin denied suggestions that the arrangement with Warburg constituted any sort of a share-support operation, or that Warburg had covertly warehoused the Greencore shares on behalf of Davy.

As a result of the scandal, the ISE suspended Greencore shares, which had been placed the previous Friday at 275p. Half of the 16 British instituional investors pulled out after the scandal. The ISE said the market was misled by the share sale announcements made by Greencore and the Department of Finance. Albert Reynolds even threatened that Davy would never again be involved in a Government share sale. The Davy Directors refused to resign as a result of the scandal.

See the Oireachtas debate.

Bank of Ireland (who owned Davy) later agreed to aquire 10m shares in of the Government’s stake, should the shares go unsold.

Earlier that year, in January 1993, a cheque for £5,000 from Davy Stockbrokers was lodged into the B/T account, sworn by four bank officials as standing for the “Bertie/Tim account”.

Did you know… bonus.

At the very same time as this scandal the Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Bill was making its way through the Dail. The bill removed the advertising cap put on RTE by Minister Ray Burke in 1990.

It was later found that Burke had taken bribes to introduce that legislation.

My reaction

Long-time readers will be aware that the Mahon Tribunal, and more specifically Bertie Ahern’s role in that tribunal, have been a bugbear of mine for some time.

Today, finally, we have the announcement that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will resign on May 6. It is welcome news.

Mr Ahern spent much of his speech spelling out his contribution to Irish political life, and his service to the State. In the latter part he dealt with the allegations that have been his undoing. While I accept that Ahern made a contribution to the peace process, in no way does this mean that somehow he has a right to stay on in political office, nor does it excuse him from being accountable.

Cian rightly points out that it was not the media, bloggers, or even Facebook groups that led to the appalling vista of Ahern’s incredible tales and ultimate resignation. It was Ahern himself that got himself into this mess. And the only recourse, ultimately, was his resignation.

I have called for his resignation several times since his now infamous interview with Bryan Dobson in September 2006. In truth, we have spent nearly 20 months stewing over his changing stories, his incredible tales, and the sums of money involved in those tales kept growing.

As time went on it became clear that at the time he spoke to the nation on national television he had yet to tell the tribunal half of what we now know. Celia Larkin’s accounts only came to light in April 2007. Ahern changed his story in relation to the second digout during evidence in September 2007. The list goes on.

Increasingly, critics said the tribunal was no longer about the original allegation that Owen O’Callaghan gave cash to Ahern, that it had become some sort of vendetta. To some degree they are right on the former but wrong on the latter. Simply put, it was Ahern’s reaction to the tribunal’s inquiry that led directly to his resignation.

Indeed, if the Tribunal reported tomorrow and found that there were no corrupt payments it simply would not matter. Ahern’s changing positions on his own finances are what led to this result – as far as I can see he was caught up in a tangled web of his prevarications. It became less about the original allegation and more about what tribunal found – and Ahern’s response to those discoveries.

But I don’t see this as a victory for accountability. Ahern was dragged kicking and screaming to a resignation, when he really should have resigned a very long time ago. If, for example, PTSB had not found the documents that they did, Ahern would very likely still be clinging on to power, and brazening it for as long as possible – and to hell with standards or perceived standards in public life.

We have to ask ourselves what sort of society we want. One where the leader of our country spends an inordinate amount of time answering questions about vasts sums of money in his accounts, appoints friends to State jobs, takes cash from businessmen… and all the rest… or one where politicians do all of the above – but when found out resign immediately for the good of the country.

Ireland is a very long way from a democracy which is accountable to its people, and Ahern’s games around the tribunal have only served to bring the country into disrepute and to blacken the highest political office in the country.

Ahern, Taoiseach or not, has very serious matters to answer. Tribunal matters. Cash matters. Corruption matters. Criminal matters. How we deal with those matters, and how we punish wrongdoing in public office, will define our nation.

If we fall short in that regard, we all lose.

The media reaction and more questions

Now we have to see how the media reacts to the news. So far RTE television have been bringing on a stream of FF deputies. And each of them runs the usual ‘trial by media’ line.

This is clearly nonsense. The media in fact did not go out of its way to criticise Ahern, all it did was seek answers about his tribunal evidence. And even after Carruth’s evidence broke two weeks ago, the media remained quiet for a very long time.

Ahern’s silence since Carruth’s evidence is perhaps a sign of how bad things are. We still await explanations of sterling lodgments, and indeed more lodgments. Questions remain over potential allegations of money laundering and the vast sums of money going through Ahern’s accouns and other accounts to which he is linked.

Ahern is not off the hook. I look forward to his next day in the tribunal.

Bertie Ahern announcement

If he says it’s all over now, fine. If he says it’s all over after the speech to Congress, fine.

If he puts a date on his departure within the next six months. Not good enough.

Upate: May 6, he’s a gonner. Saying that this had nothing to do with Grainne Carruth’s evidence is bullshit. He still has a lot of explaining to do. And I wait to hear where the sterling came from.

The Facebook group is delighted (which peaked at 2,634 members), an outpouring of wall posts.

From my own point of view, I have no sympathy whatever for Mr Ahern. For 20 months we have been dragged through this nonsense. If this country was truly functioning, he would have resigned a very long time ago indeed.

And it all was of his own making.

Grainne Caruth evidence

MR. O’NEILL: Ms. Grainne Carruth, please.

4 CHAIRMAN: Good afternoon, Ms. Carruth.
6 Q. 624 MR. O’NEILL: Ms. Carruth, I think you worked with Mr. Bertie Ahern from 1987
7 until 1999, is that correct?
8 A. Yes.
9 Q. 625 And you have already given evidence before the Tribunal in relation to the
10 operations which were taking place in St. Lukes in Drumcondra which is where
11 you were based, is that correct?
12 A. Yes.
13 Q. 626 Recently the Tribunal wrote to your solicitors on the 6th of March 2008, on the
14 subject matter which has been the subject of the examination of the last
15 witnesses who were heard today by the Tribunal. And I will read that letter,
16 it’s at page 27275 on screen, please.
Continue reading “Grainne Caruth evidence”