By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — After a bruising week of allegations involving payoffs, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s coalition emerged intact but “strained,” with the Progressive Democrats pledging support.
In a Dail address last week, the taoiseach distanced himself from the culture of corruption that surrounded Fianna Fail in the past. “Anyone in politics who demands or accepts bribes should not be in politics,” he said.
A weekend opinion poll, meanwhile, showed that the continuing controversies have damaged Ahern’s public standing. His personal rating is down 12 points and Fianna Fail’s rating is down 6. Indeed, only 36 percent of those polled were happy with Ahern’s denials that he had been aware of claims 10 years ago that Euro Commissioner Padraig Flynn had received a _50,000 donation from London property developer Tom Gilmartin.
A drip-feed of continuing disclosures appears certain to haunt the PD-FF relationship and threaten its stability.
Taniaste Mary Harney sat stone faced beside the taoiseach during the debate and, like her party colleagues, remained so while the rest of the government benches applauded when Ahern’s finished.
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Giving an uncharacteristically nervous performance on radio the next day, she pledged support for Ahern but expressed concern about what might be “coming down the tracks” from the two sleaze tribunals.
“We have a good working relationship . . . but, I have to be honest, these events during the past few days have strained the relationship,” she said.
The taoiseach revealed to the Dail that Flynn has failed to respond to a confidential letter of Oct. 6, 1998 from Fianna Fail’s general secretary, Martin Mackin, asking about reports he had received the cash.
A check of party records had also shown it had not received the money in question.
Gilmartin claims he gave Flynn a check as a donation to the party with the name of the payee left blank in June 1989. At the time, Flynn was environment minister and party treasurer. The developer had been involved in multi-million-punt property developments in Dublin.
“While we have expressed the wish that [Flynn] would clarify the situation as soon as possible, he is within his rights to reserve his position,” Ahern said. “If I understand them correctly, both Flynn and Gilmartin have denied that any political contribution was made for favors. They have further asserted that no such favors were given or received. I believe it would be much healthier if Commissioner Flynn would clarify his position, where he can easily do so, and clear the air, but we have no power to compel him to do that.”
The taoiseach also denied he had received or sought cash from Gilmartin or had himself set in train inquiries about the _50,000 10 years ago.
He also took exception to his credibility being questioned because he had initially recollected only one meeting with Gilmartin in the late 1980s and, after a check of diaries, found there had been three.
“It is a bit unfair on me that when you correct the record quickly you are accused of a loss of memory, senility or something worse.”