Last updated: March 23, 2012 9:18 am

Ahern failed to tell truth, says inquiry

Ireland’s former prime minister, Bertie Ahern, failed to “truthfully account” for IR£165,000 in secret payments that he received during the 1990s, according to the final report of the longest running corruption inquiry in Irish history.

The Mahon Tribunal report, published on Thursday, stopped short of branding Mr Ahern as corrupt, saying it could not establish the sources of funds paid into his bank accounts.

But its withering rejection of Mr Ahern’s sworn evidence on the subject of numerous payments made to him is expected to lead to his expulsion from Fianna Fáil, the party he led for 14 years, and further damage his political legacy.

“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.

Mr Ahern said on Thursday night he rejected the Mahon findings, saying the report was “unfair” and “inaccurate”.

“I have dedicated my life to politics and serving the interest of the Irish people in politics. I have never accepted a bribe or a corrupt payment,” said Mr Ahern in a statement. “I was honest with the Tribunal and I gave it truthful evidence and I reject completely any suggestion that I did otherwise.”

The report is the fifth and final instalment of a 15-year inquiry into alleged corruption in the property planning process. It runs to 3,270 pages and makes damning findings against senior Irish political and business figures, including former ministers, a former European Union commissioner, Padraig Flynn, councillors and property developers.

The report found corruption was “endemic and systemic” in political life from the late 1980s to the late 1990s. It concluded that “public apathy” towards corruption enabled it to continue, as there was little pressure applied to public representatives to stop their activities. It also strongly criticised members of Mr Ahern’s cabinet for making “extraordinary and unprecedented attacks” on the tribunal, which it said were intended to undermine the inquiry.

The Irish government said on Thursday it would refer the report to the prosecuting authorities and hold a three-day parliamentary debate on the findings next week.

A spokesman for Mr Ahern said he was studying the report and would make a statement in due course.

Mr Ahern was one of Ireland’s most successful politicians, serving as prime minister between 1997 and 2008 and winning three successive general elections. He won international praise for his adept handling of the Northern Ireland’s peace process.

But public support in Ireland for Mr Ahern, who was previously nicknamed the “Teflon Taoiseach” in refence to his apparent ability to deflect bad news, has waned since the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy.

Ironically the tribunal of inquiry was established by Mr Ahern when he was prime minister in 1997 to investigate corruption and herald a new era in Irish politics. This followed the resignation of Ray Burke, a minister in Mr Ahern’s government, who faced allegations that he had received IR£80,000 from a property developer. The tribunal’s second report found that Mr Burke had accepted payments from property developers. The former minister subsequently served four months in prison for tax offences.

Mr Ahern’s personal finances came under the spotlight of the tribunal following allegations he received money from a property developer, Owen O’Callaghan. The tribunal said it could not determine whether any payment was made, as it was unable to identify the source of the funds lodged in Mr Ahern’s accounts.

Mr O’Callaghan said on Thursday that he would seek a judicial review of the report because its conclusions were based on procedures “which by any reasonable criteria have been biased, unfair and unjust”.

During its investigation of this allegation the tribunal discovered a range of payments into Mr Ahern’s bank accounts and began a wider inquiry, which forced him to attend public hearings when he was prime minister.

During 14 days of hearings Mr Ahern often gave rambling explanations for numerous deposits into his bank accounts, saying he had won some of the money on horseracing bets and received gifts from friends.

It emerged during the tribunal hearings that Mr Ahern did not have a bank account between 1987 and 1993. During part of this time he was minister for finance.

The investigation by the tribunal ultimately led to Mr Ahern’s resignation as prime minister in 2008. In an emotional resignation speech in parliament, Mr Ahern said he did not want the constant barrage of commentary on tribunal-related matters to dominate the political agenda of the country. “I have never done anything to corrupt my office ... I know in my heart of hearts that I have done no wrong and wronged no one,” he said.

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