Taoiseach softens stance on Bertie Ahern after comparing him to John Gilligan in 2008
• 1h ago
Tadgh McNally reports from Brussels
Fianna Faail leader Bertie Ahern speaking at the party’s Ard Fheis in 1998© Eamonn Farrell
TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has softened his stance on former Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern, who he once compared to convicted drug dealer John Gilligan.
The former Taoiseach rejoined Fianna Fáil in December, after he quit the party more than ten years ago following the Mahon Tribunal.
A spokesperson for Fianna Fáil said: “We received a membership application and it was accepted by the Party.”
Varadkar said that the decision to readmit Ahern was a matter for Fianna Fáil and that it was “entirely their decision”.
When asked about his comments about Ahern in 2008, however, Varadkar distanced himself from the remarks.
Varadkar, just weeks after Ahern resigned as Taoiseach on 6 May 2008, had compared Ahern to the convicted drug dealer over his disclosures to the Mahon Tribunal.
“A former Taoiseach has gone to the tribunal and essentially given the John Gilligan defence — that he won the money on the horses,” Varadkar said, speaking in the Dáil.
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“This is a defence for drug dealers and pimps and not the kind of thing that should be tolerated from a former Taoiseach and Member of this House.”
However, when asked about his comments in Brussels this morning, Varadkar said that those comments were made at a point in time.
“I think that was at a particular point in time and if you look at the totality of Bertie Ahern’s career, you know, let’s not forget that he was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement and that’s something that we’re going to recognise in a few months time,” he said.
I don’t think anyone can diminish the role that he played.
“But you know, who’s a member of Fianna Fáil is a matter for Fianna Fáil, it’s not my business.”
Varadkar added that Ahern had been in touch with him in recent years, particularly in relation to Brexit and Northern Ireland.
“He’s somebody who’s been in touch from time to time with me down the years in relation to Brexit and in relation to Northern Ireland and just as is the case for any former Taoiseach, whether it’s Enda Kenny or John Bruton, the advice is always welcome and very useful,” he said.
Ahern had initially resigned from Fianna Fáil in 2012, following the conclusion of the Mahon Tribunal.
The tribunal (officially the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments) found that he did not truthfully account for payments of IR£165,000 made to accounts connected to him.
It was scathing in its treatment of the former Taoiseach, rejecting much of the evidence he provided but it it did not make findings of corruption against Ahern.
In Washington, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has welcomed Ahern’s return to the party.
According to the Irish Times, Martin said that Ahern had made “an outstanding contribution to peace on the island of Ireland”.
“I believe significant time has passed and I just think, in the context of that achievement, I would welcome his membership.”