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Prime minister's Dublin home is new focus for ethics scandal that won't die

Prime minister's Dublin home is new focus for ethics scandal that won't die

Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, struggling to stabilize his 9-year-old coalition government, braved a furious parliamentary debate Thursday over an alleged link between secret donations and the purchase of his Dublin home.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McDowell, whose Progressive Democratic Party provides Ahern with his parliamentary majority, was inexplicably absent from Ahern's side as speculation mounted of a breakdown in trust.
For the past two weeks, Ahern has suffered a dripfeed of allegations and revelations about more than euro60,000 (US$75,000) he secretly received from 39 businessmen in 1993 and 1994, most of whom Ahern says he cannot identify.
The prime minister, who has a reputation for speaking clumsily and with deliberate ambiguity, has compounded his own problems by repeatedly failing to answer questions fully in parliament.
Ahern on Tuesday issued a highly qualified apology to parliament in a bid to reassure McDowell and keep the government intact until an expected mid-2007 election.
On Wednesday, after facing another round of questions, Ahern said he thought the intense scrutiny of his finances was petering out because he had explained everything as best he could. But within hours he was broadsided by fresh allegations of dishonesty when media reports identified businessman Micheal Wall as the man who sold Ahern his Dublin home in 1997.
Ahern confirmed Thursday that Wall was present at an October 1994 fund-raising function in Manchester, England, when Ahern received a cash payment of 8,000 pounds (euro11,800, US$15,000) from 27 businessmen. He confirmed that Wall did sell him his Dublin home in 1997.
But Ahern insisted there was no link between the two events because Wall had not donated him any money. He said he rented the house from Wall from 1995 to 1997, then paid "the full market rate" to buy it. Ahern declined to specify the price.
Opposition leaders accused Ahern of concocting a story riddled with contradictions. They noted that, since news of his secret donations broke last month, Ahern had only gradually revealed details under pressure from politicians and newspaper reports.
They said his current explanations for the Manchester meeting _ that he could recollect the identities of only two of the 27 donors, yet was certain he granted all 27 no favors in return _ made even less sense now that he admitted Wall was there.
But Ahern said Wall had attended only the end of the Manchester event, because he was providing mini-bus services for guests. He said Wall "didn't eat any dinner that night," but "did speak to me afterwards in the bar." He said Wall had told him in a telephone call over the weekend that he was not one of the 27 donors, which was why Ahern had not previously identified him to parliament.
Debate had to be suspended as opposition leaders peppered Ahern with shouted questions across the chamber. After the suspension, Ahern left parliament and was replaced by Finance Minister Brian Cowen.
McDowell, who is also the government's justice minister, could not be reached for comment.


Updated : 2020-12-02 05:46 GMT+08:00