Haughey once described Bertie Ahern as the most ruthless, the most devious, the most cunning of them all.
How wrong he was, but what could you expect from a man like Haughey who was so venal and corrupt himself? Naturally he’d expect to find the same mean traits in all around him, and I have to admit, even I was taken in by this cruel distortion of Bertie’s true nature: trusting, kind, generous and open.
Why have I changed my view?
Simple. After the news this weekend I now know that Bertie was fooled and misled by some of the people closest to him, people he had every reason to trust with his life.
His constituency headquarters, St Luke’s, needed refurbishment, and a fund was set up for that purpose. Bert’s confidant, Tim Collins, opened an account called the “B/T” account and before long it contained £40,000. But then, somehow, without Bertie’s knowledge, his girlfriend was given £30,000 out of the account to buy a house. Imagine that! Imagine if your girlfriend did that and never told you?
But there’s worse. Guess who approved the loan? That’s right: Bertie’s own lawyer, who was a trustee of the money, and who never told Bert a single thing about it either. Nor did he tell Bert that there were no repayment terms. That Celia could keep the money for as long as she liked unless Fianna Fail asked for it back, which in fairness, they eventually did, just after the Tribunal started asking about it. And in fairness to Celia, she did pay back the money, with full interest, or actually, just to be precise, with the interest the money would have earned if it had remained sitting in the account, though I’m not sure what sort of account it was. I think current accounts pay quite a low rate of interest: perhaps as little as 0%.
It gets even worse for poor Bert. Not only did his lawyer and his girlfriend fail to tell him about this transaction, but his lawyer then went ahead and provided the conveyancing services for the purchase of the house, which Celia still owns.
What a fool Bertie must be feeling now. And how foolish he must feel when he remembers all the money he had to borrow on behalf of the Party to refurbish the offices when all along he could simply have asked his girlfriend to give it back.
As you know, Bertie has often told us he’s an accountant, so it’s a bit of a mystery how the existence of the B/T account could have slipped his mind. Especially when, as far as he knew, it contained enough money to buy a fine Victorian house on the North Circular Road in 1993. But anyway, for whatever reason, Bert just plain forgot to go looking for this money which belonged to the Party, and not to him personally or to Celia Larkin. He just forgot, as any accountant might. Or alternatively, he forgot the money didn’t belong to him.
This, after all, is a man so trusting that, as co-signatory, he was in the habit of signing blank cheques (made out to Cash) for the use of his boss, Charlie Haughey.
Oh Bertie, how could you have let them land you in this fine mess?
You poor, harmless, innocent, forgetful, trusting accountant.