By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — In what promises to be a long grilling in the witness box, former Taoiseach Charles Haughey has begun answering questions about his finances in the 1970s and is being taken in detail through his relationship with Allied Irish Banks.
The huge crowds expected when he first appeared at the Moriarty Tribunal on July 21 failed to materialize. There were no great pressure on the video coverage provided in other rooms in Dublin Castle.
Only the media were out in force. Haughey saluted photographers when he went in the main entrance — in contrast to his appearance at the McCracken Tribunal when he arrived early to dodge the scrum of journalists.
Protestors threw coins at his state car and chanted "Your island, your yacht, your shirt, you’re caught."
Throwing coins at cars became a feature of protests again allegedly corrupt Italian politicians.
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Out of deference to his age and health — he is 74 and reported to be suffering from prostate cancer — he is only required to give two hours of evidence each day.
The Tribunal will rise for the summer holidays at the end of this week and will resume questioning Haughey when it returns.
Little new has been revealed in the early questioning. Evidence of his fraught relationship with the country’s biggest bank has already been disclosed.
Between 1971 and 1980, he ran up an overdraft of £1.1 million In Allied Irish Bank before paying it off with £750,000.
He is being brought in detail by the tribunal lawyers through huge piles of AIB documentation and at one stage he said, "I have to confess to being overwhelmed by all this documentation. I find it difficult to cope with it all.
"It’s full of complex detail and it’s a long time ago."
The lawyers appear to be trying to establish just how many of the decisions about his finances were take by Haughey and how much was the responsibility of his late friend and accountant Des Traynor.
During the McCracken Tribunal inquiring into cash payments from then supermarket boss Ben Dunne in 1997, Haughey claimed Traynor handled all his day to day finances.
"I never had to concern myself about my personal finances. He took over control of my financial affairs from about 1960 onward.
"He saw it as his personal responsibility to ensue that I would not be distracted from my political work by financial concerns. In hindsight, it is clear that I should have involved myself to a greater degree in this regard."
The lawyers seem to be trying to uncouple the relationship and establish who was taking the decisions and when.
A large amount of evidence has already been gathered by the Tribunal that shows very direct involvement by Haughey to the extent that he made personal approaches for cash.
During the forensic and chronological look back at the documents, it is clear that Haughey was living well beyond his means. At one stage he borrowed from National Irish Bank to try and shore up his growing problems with AIB.
"It would seem that I was borrowing from Peter to pay Paul," Haughey said. It was a remark that was to dominate the headlines.