The Mahon Tribunal and the Taoiseach

Bertie Ahern
Image caption The tribunal probed a number of payments to former taoiseach Bertie Ahern

A newspaper advertisement offering a £10,000 reward led to the longest-running tribunal in the history of the Irish state.

Concerned about rezoning corruption, environmentalist Michael Smith, along with a friend, sponsored the advertisement in 1995 seeking information from the public.

"I was motivated by a desire to see the planning process transformed, to move from a system that was very much led by developers and their lobbyists, to one that was public interest driven," said Michael Smith.

The reward for information worked.

In 1997, what was then called the Flood Tribunal, was set up to inquire into alleged planning corruption with a remit to investigate allegations of corrupt payments to politicians for the re-zoning of part of north Dublin for development.

The tribunal's terms of reference were later extended to all allegations about payments to politicians and officials in connection with a number of re-zonings in the Dublin area.

In latter years it became the Mahon Tribunal, most associated with the role it played in Bertie Ahern's resignation as Irish Prime Minister in 2008.

Only two years before he stepped aside, the Irish Times published leaked information, that the Mahon Tribunal was investigating payments to Mr Ahern.

"The tribunal was investigating Mr Ahern's finances to see if there was any evidence that he had received payments from a property developer," said Irish Times journalist, Colm Keena.

"He had to explain his personal finances and explain the money that could be seen in bank accounts he opened later on in his career, and he was unable to explain those lodgements to his accounts, in particular sterling lodgements."


Nevertheless, Mr Ahern lived up to his nickname - the 'Teflon Taoiseach' (prime minister).

Image caption The Mahon Tribunal sat in Dublin Castle

"It created an enormous political scandal but when the Irish Times published an opinion poll some weeks later it showed Mr Ahern's popularity had gone up rather than down, whereas his sharpest critics on the opposition side lost support.

"So after that the opposition politicians stood back from the issue and decided that attacking Mr Ahern or querying his finances was not in their best interests."

Mr Ahern went on to win an historic third term in office, but three months later he gave evidence to the Mahon Tribunal.


"There was definitely something surreal about it and to add to it Mr Ahern's evidence was slightly surreal as well," said journalist Michael Clifford.

"There was a scenario very often whereby his evidence, and that of a number of people who agreed with him, in the witness box seemed to conflict with whatever written evidence there was about money transactions involving his accounts."

The following March Mr Ahern's former secretary Grainne Carruth gave evidence that suggested the Taoiseach's previous evidence was not correct.

"There was a perception at the time, correct or otherwise, that he had effectively, as one colour writer described it, hid behind the skirts of Grainne Carruth," said Mr Clifford.

"I think with the public that really hit home and I think at that stage he realised it would have been very difficult to continue in office."

A month later Mr Ahern resigned as Taoiseach.

Judge Mahon has reported his findings, history will judge Bertie Ahern's political legacy.