confused? you will be. text from Irish Emigrant, this is a Brian Greene test post.
Taoiseach Bertie Ahern had a difficult week and all he could do was look on from the sidelines. He was again the focus of attention at the Mahon Tribunal, and to such an extent that his barrister, Colm Ó hOisín, felt obliged to accuse tribunal barrister Des O’Neill of “pushing a particular agenda” against his client. This allegation upset Tribunal chairman Judge Alan Mahon who told Mr Ó hOisín to “be careful about the words that you use because they are particularly offensive to us”. Judge Gerald Keys also intervened to say, “Offensive, and I reject them out of hand”. Earlier in the week, during cross-examination by Mr O’Neill, AIB official Jim McNamara confirmed that the Taoiseach had contacted him to ask about details of transactions given to the Tribunal. That allowed Fine Gael spokesman Fergus O’Dowd to describe the Taoiseach’s decision to contact a tribunal witness as “bizarre”. A spokesman for the Taoiseach responded by making the point that Mr Ahern could not be expected to remember details of lodgements and withdrawals which took place 12 to 13 years ago.
Two days later, after he had his chance to cross-examine Mr McNamara, it was clear that Mr Ó hOisín thought Mr O’Neill’s question was used simply to raise suspicions in the eyes of the public. He argued that it was perfectly reasonable for any client of a bank to discuss details of his account with an official of the bank. Mr O’Neill intervened to claim that the significance of Mr Ahern’s contact with Mr McNamara was to ask if the transactions involved foreign currency. It was at this point the heated exchanges between Mr Ó hOisín and the tribunal judges took place.
Much of the week was taken up with the cross-examination of AIB officials about different transactions. Mr O’Neill focused on how these transactions might or might not have included Sterling or dollar amounts and on how they allegedly didn’t equate with Mr Ahern’s explanation. It was all extremely complex and I suspect there aren’t more than a handful of people outside the tribunal who could explain clearly the issues involved. That, of course, doesn’t stop them having firm views on whether or not Bertie Ahern is telling the truth.
I am not one of that handful and the more I look at the figures the more confused I become. Even the journalists attending the Tribunal are confused or, if their reports are accurate, it is the barristers questioning the bank officials who are confused.
Despite my confusion I’ll mention two of the transactions although, according to one account it is the same transaction described on different days.
The AIB’s Philip Murphy was questioned about a lodgement of £24,838.49 which Mr Ahern recollected as comprising £16,500 and approximately Stg£8,000. It was argued by Henry Murphy SC for the Tribunal that there was no Sterling exchange rate that would support this. The witness was pressed by the barrister, “It doesn’t add up, isn’t that right Mr Murphy?” to which Mr Murphy replied “Yes”. I did some calculations based on the Central Bank exchange rate at the time and came close, but counsel for the Tribunal had been looking for a round Sterling amount and whether this meant excluding coins or a multiple of £100 is not clear.
On Friday it was again Mr O’Neill SC who was cross-examining an AIB official, this time Rosemary Murtagh. He claimed that from the bank’s records Celia Larkin could not have lodged Stg£30k on December 5, 1994. He noted that the total amount of foreign currencies purchased by the O’Connell Street Branch that day was £29,254.97 and argued this could equate to exactly €45,000. If the Irish Times reported the subsequent exchanges accurately, he then seemed to defeat his argument by accepting that some of the foreign currency was Sterling and that the balance was in other currencies, and he then managed to get Ms Murtagh to agree that this balance of $28,969.34 was “as a matter of probability if not certainty…. $45,000″. When Mr Ó hOisín cross-examined Ms Murtagh she also agreed that it was possible to carry out a mathematical exercise which would prove that £29,254.97 had to be Sterling and not dollars.
It is worth noting that no one has admitted giving the Taoiseach $45k, no one has accused anyone else of giving the Taoiseach $45k, Mr Ahern insists that he never had $45k and the bank has no record of receiving $45k from Mr Ahern or anyone else on the day in question.
Two morning sessions of the Mahon Tribunal had to be postponed due to the illness of key witness Tom Gilmartin. The questioning of AIB officials took longer than anticipated and that resulted in the postponement of the scheduled appearances of the Taoiseach, his former partner, Celia Larkin, and the Manchester-based business man Michael Wall, from whom Mr Ahern bought his Drumcondra home. The Tribunal is now adjourned for the summer and will resume in September.