Belfast Telegraph

Ahern's future to be put to vote

A vote to expel Ireland's former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern from his political party is the only route available for colleagues after a corruption inquiry found he did not tell the truth about a labyrinth of cash payments, it has been claimed.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said evidence showed Mr Ahern fell short of the standard of personal behaviour which all holders of public office should uphold.

The 15-year Mahon Tribunal, whose findings were released on Thursday, did not brand the leader of three coalition governments corrupt but refused to accept any explanations he offered for a quarter of a million of bank lodgements he made in the early 1990s.

Mr Martin said the tribunal's comments relating to Mr Ahern are extremely serious. He said: "The findings of the tribunal that the explanations it was given were untrue and the amounts involved are very serious and cannot be ignored. No matter how high a member rises within the party and in elected office, they still carry a duty of trust for the members of Fianna Fail and for the people who elected them."

The three-time taoiseach's future as a party veteran will be decided next Friday in a special vote by the national executive. Under-pressure Mr Martin also refuted Judge Alan Mahon's withering criticisms of Mr Ahern's cabinet, who he claimed stepped up to attack and attempt to collapse the tribunal.

One minister, Dick Roche, suggested the investigation was voyeurism while Mr Martin himself said it was bizarre. Mr Martin said he could not be judge and jury on which comments the tribunal was referring to.

"I take this comment seriously but the fact is that the report provides no details upon which a response can be given, and it is not up to others to decide what instances the tribunal is specifically referring to," said Mr Martin. "It is to be assumed that the tribunal does not view all criticism of its work as unacceptable."

Mr Martin said achievements by Mr Ahern, such as the Good Friday Agreement, are real and enduring but could not absolve him from facing the implications of the report.

The Fianna Fail leader denied his move to expel a predecessor was about personal political advantage and said next Friday's vote was not a foregone conclusion. "The motivation for recommending the motion next week was based on the evidence of the tribunal, nothing more, nothing less," he argued. "There's nothing macho about this. I don't like being in the position as leader of the party of having to recommend this. It's a very dark day for the party when you have to recommend the expulsion of your former leader. It's nothing natural in that. It's something I would not normally like to do. It's based on the evidence of the tribunal."

Mr Martin said he had not spoken to Mr Ahern at or since his party's Ard Fheis last month, when he distanced himself from the scandals and told his party faithful they would not be let down again by low standards. He admitted he was wrong to publicly state that he believed Mr Ahern's evidence at the time, and called comments by former minister Willie O'Dea against the tribunal unwise.

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