It certainly looks like an act of generosity, doesn’t it?
A kind-hearted politician takes pity on a staff member in trouble. The staff member’s two elderly aunts risk losing their rented home of sixty years, but just in the nick of time the politician arranges a loan of £30,000 to cover the cost of buying it for the old ladies. The money comes from his constituency account, so nobody loses out, and it’s all a discreet, private transaction between employee and employer. Thank God the elderly women are saved.
It’s easy to see how people would be uncomfortable with the Tribunal, isn’t it? What will they be asking about next? Do they want to see the old ladies thrown out at the side of the road? And anyway, wasn’t it Fianna Fáil’s business?
Well, no, actually.
Not when it turns out that the staff member was the politician’s life partner.
Not when Bertie refused for days to disclose this person’s identity to the Tribunal.
Not when it turns out that the staff member still owns the house.
Not when it turns out that the loan was only paid back three weeks ago after the Tribunal started asking about it
Not when the loan remained outstanding for fifteen years: to most people, that would look more like a gift than a loan, but that’s not for me to say.
So. Where are we?
Well, we seem to have a loan on highly preferential terms to a woman with whom Bertie would soon share another house
Not a stranger, or simply a staff member, but his partner in all things, financial and otherwise.
You see, this loan was made on terms that no bank would offer. This was a loan that was to be repaid “on demand”, whenever Bertie’s constituency organisation needed it back, which as it turned out wasn’t to be for fifteen years. They just seemed to get on fine without this money — enough cash to buy a house — which had been lent to Bertie’s life partner, who used it to purchase a property which she still owns. And though they’ve subsequently separated, Bertie and Celia were very much together at the time.
But what of the account from where the loan money came? Well, this account was set up in 1989, around the time Bertie was beginning to receive unsolicited donations and dig-outs from every quarter, much to his bewilderment. The fund’s purpose, Bertie said, was to provide a contingency fund should his offices need refurbishment. Strange then, that although ‚ €150,000 was subsequently spent on the offices, there seemed to be no need to call in the loan to Bertie’s girlfriend.
The account was opened by his supporter, Tim Collins, who named it “B/T”. Clearly this couldn’t possibly have stood for “Bertie/Tim”. They insisted it stood for “Building/Trust”, which is what it was renamed recently, after the Tribunal took an interest in it. But how do we account for the backslash?
Let’s set/up a building/trust fund, in/case we/need building/repairs. After that, let’s all/go for a/pint. Anyone see my feckin/anorak?
In Fianna/Fáil, you’re never/far from a backslash.
So there you have it. This is what the hard-hearted, evil tribunal is asking:
Who really controlled the funds in the account?
Who really benefited from it?
Where did the money come from in the first place?
These are not unreasonable questions to ask a former Finance Minister who is now our Prime Minister. After all, a country needs to be sure that its top politicians, and especially the head of government, aren’t in anybody’s pocket.
These are fair questions, you might conclude. The kind of questions that need to be asked in a functioning democracy, in spite of Bertie’s complaints about intrusions into his privacy.
Not to mention his attempt to limit the Tribunal, for some reason best known to himself.