Minister says Taoiseach is honest & honourable

Wednesday 26 September 2007 10.49
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Dermot Ahern - Defends Taoiseach's Mahon evidence
Dermot Ahern - Defends Taoiseach's Mahon evidence
Bertie Ahern - Spent 17 hours in the witness box
Bertie Ahern - Spent 17 hours in the witness box
Brian Cowen - Taoiseach has full FF party support
Brian Cowen - Taoiseach has full FF party support

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, has said that the Taoiseach is an honest, honourable and simple man and he has no doubt that the Mahon Tribunal will come down on his side.

Commenting on the Taoiseach's appearance before the tribunal, Minister Ahern said that there is no smoking gun against Bertie Ahern.

Earlier, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance Brian Cowen had said the Taoiseach has the full support of Fianna Fáil and said calls for his resignation were opportunistic.

Meanwhile, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny claimed he did not believe Bertie Ahern's account of his personal finances given to the Mahon Tribunal in recent weeks.

Regarding the call from Labour leader Éamon Gilmore earlier today for the Taoiseach to resign, Mr Kenny said, 'Fianna Fail do not do resignation.'

Former Green Party leader Trevor Sargent insisted he was prepared to wait until the Tribunal finishes sifting through all the evidence.

He described his focus as the Programme for Government and said all people must have sufficient patience to allow the process to be completed rather than jump to conclusions.

Mr Sargent, who is a Minister of State with responsibility for food and horticulture, refused to say whether he was satisfied by the answers given by the Taoiseach at the Mahon Tribunal.

Gilmore wants credible explanation

This morning, Éamon Gilmore said Bertie Ahern did not appear to give a credible explanation to the tribunal about cash lodgements in the 1990s.

Speaking on RTÉ Radio's Morning Ireland, Mr Gilmore (left) said it would be better for the country if Mr Ahern decided to resign voluntarily.

Last night, Mr Gilmore said political accountability could not await the publication of the tribunal report.

The Opposition is reviewing the detail of the Taoiseach's evidence to the tribunal ahead of the resumption of the Dáil tomorrow.

A Fine Gael spokesman said that after completing a review the party would form a political view on Mr Ahern's explanations for large cash lodgements into his accounts.

It would then decide how Mr Ahern can be held accountable in the Dáil.

The spokesman said all options would be considered, including a motion of no confidence.

While Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said he was he happy that all parties in Government would stand firm with the Taoiseach in any confidence vote.

Mr Dempsey said the least the Oireachtas could do is wait until the Tribunal makes its report.

Mr Ahern spent 17 hours over four days in the witness box at the tribunal, dealing with cash lodgements in the 1990s.

He completed his testimony to the current phase of the inquiry yesterday and told reporters he was happy with his performance.

Dunlop tells of payments from O'Callaghan

At the Tribunal hearing today, former lobbyist Frank Dunlop has told how he received more than £1.8m from developer Owen O'Callaghan for the Quarryvale development in West Dublin.

Mr Dunlop said nearly £200,000 of this went into separate untraceable accounts that he used to pay bribes to councillors.

But he denied setting up a system of payments with Mr O'Callaghan with this in mind.

He was questioned why a dual-invoice system was set up with his client Owen O'Callaghan.

The Tribunal heard that more than £1.6 million in payments including VAT went into the account of Frank Dunlop and Associates and other payments totalling £175,000 with no VAT added were paid to a company called Shefran.

Mr Dunlop admitted that this money went into accounts including in the Channel Islands that he called his 'war chest'. This money was used to bribe councillors, he said.

Mr Dunlop said Tom Gilmartin, then Owen O'Callaghan's partner in Quarryvale, was opposed to having him involved and that is why he suggested paying fees to the company called Shefran.

Mr Dunlop said that payments continued to be made through Shefran even though Mr Gilmartin knew of his involvement. Mr Dunlop said it was simply convenient

He said it was a co-incidence that the Shefran payments continued until councillors voted to rezone Quarryvale in 1993.

Mr Dunlop says his then client, Owen O'Callaghan, did not know that he paid bribes to 14 councillors in relation to Quarryvale.

The tribunal also heard that Mr O'Callaghan gave Mr Dunlop £360,00 towards his tribunal legal fees in 1998 and a further £240,000 that allowed him to make an interim  settlement with the Revenue Commissioners.

Gilmartin claims further payment

Former developer Tom Gilmartin earlier told the Tribunal that Bertie Ahern received a total of £100,000 from Owen O'Callaghan.

The tribunal has previously heard Mr Gilmartin (right) testify that Mr O'Callaghan told him Mr Ahern received two payments totalling £80,000 in relation to the Quarryvale development.

But Mr Gilmartin also claims that Mr Ahern got £20,000 as 'his cut' of a £150,000 payment by Mr O'Callaghan to then Taoiseach Albert Reynolds in 1994 in relation to the Golden Island development in Athlone.

He said Mr O'Callaghan told him that Mr Reynolds had to intervene to get then Finance Minister Mr Ahern to grant tax designation for the site just before the government fell in December 1994.

But counsel for Mr O'Callaghan, Paul Sreenan SC, pointed out that Mr Gilmartin had threatened to call the fraud squad on Mr O'Callaghan earlier that year.

He asked why Mr O'Callaghan would tell Mr Gilmartin about a corrupt payment.

Mr Gilmartin said he was repeating what Mr O'Callaghan told him.