By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — Fine Gael leader John Bruton has been accused of playing "dirty politics" by Bertie Ahern after he himself accused the taoiseach of "constructing a set of events" around a visit to New York last month to allow him to attend a Fianna Fail fund-raising function at public expense.
During an angry exchange in the Dail, the taoiseach said he strongly resented the suggestion being made by Bruton.
During his New York trip, the taoiseach said he made met the governor and the mayor, heads of state agencies, the Ireland Economic Advisory Forum, the Irish Business Organization and the National Committee on Foreign policy
"I am tired of you going around the houses playing dirty politics," Ahern said. "You are trying to say I organized all of these things to go to a small Fianna Fail fund-raiser. Well, I’m afraid, sir, if you believe that, you are not the person I thought you were."
Bruton said the taoiseach had been wrong to mix party and public business and he had "done himself, his country and his party a disservice by doing so."
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The Fine Gael leader said that when he attended a party fund-raiser in New York, the party paid for his travel and subsistence and he asked if Fianna Fail be doing the same for Ahern.
Ahern said he checked and there was no precedent for a taoiseach making a contribution to expenses for a trip abroad and he did not accept that party activities should never be mixed on a visit with official business.
"When I am away or at home, I work very long days," Ahern said. "If I work for 16 or 17 hours and if I spend about two hours of my down time either doing a fund-raiser for my party, drinking in a bar or walking the streets, I don’t think that is a breach of anything."
Ahern said he had accepted an invitation to visit from New York Gov. George Pataki last August when Pataki was visiting Ireland.
The fund-raiser had only been arranged two weeks before he traveled and it had been a small meeting.
"If you take the Fianna Fail members out of it, there was about a dozen people — 13 to be exact — who would have subscribed in any way."
He also had a 45-minute meeting with about 50 members of the Fianna Fail committee.