HERE are the five key questions Bertie Ahern must answer if he wants to take his political involvement any further than mere membership of an ordinary cumann in Fianna Fáil.

The three-time election winner dramatically quit as Taoiseach in 2008, directly as a result of pressure on the credibility of his evidence to the Mahon tribunal, successor to the probe initially opened by judge Feargus Flood into planning and payment irregularities.

As the tribunal ground on, news broke of payments to Mr Ahern’s personal bank and building society accounts. There were gigantic cash lodgements over a two-year period – but the tribunal limited itself to a two-year window of investigation.

It emerged that one of Mr Ahern’s excuses for his huge lumps of cash was that he previously had nowhere to put it. This was because, at a period when he was Finance Minister, Bertie Ahern had no bank account.

This extraordinary state of affairs was in turn linked, it seemed, to Mr Ahern’s separation from his wife, Miriam. He gave a tearful TV interview to Bryan Dobson that drew huge public interest – and played for sympathy over the lowest emotional time in his life.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern rejoins Fianna Fáil more than 10 years after quitting the party

Bertie and Celia, grubby questions and broken hearts — how my award-winning story about the nursing homes scandal left a bitter aftertaste

But it still didn’t explain the lodgements, some of which went on to be revealed as sterling amounts, not the euro cash he had supposedly received in “dig-outs” from friends. And there was a large deposit too that effectively amounted to tens of thousands of US dollars by that day’s precise exchange rate used in his branch.

And so to the questions he must answer if he is to have any credibility in a political re-launch as a public figure. Certainly if Mr Ahern were to hope to become a Presidential candidate, these questions will never go away.

1. Why did you claim to have “won it on the horses” when the Mahon Tribunal evidence finally became too much?

Mr Ahern abruptly changed his stance and explanations just before the end of his evidence at Dublin Castle, explaining that some lodgements had been won through betting on horses

2. Were there really ever any dig-outs?

Mr Ahern said some lodgements arose from being given cash amounts when his friends decided to hold whip-rounds, in at least two pubs, after learning of his marital difficulties.

Eight names were offered publicly by Mr Ahern on TV, but problems arose for him when one of those named, Paraic O’Connor of National City Brokers (NCB) denied he was a friend.

When this was put to the Taoiseach on a Dublin city walkabout, he remained silent for at least seven seconds, apparently wrestling with what he might say in response.

3. Did you take money from any developer?

It’s important to remember the Tribunal did not just go fishing. It first received information from builder Tom Gilmartin that at some time in 1992, Cork-based developer Owen O’Callaghan informed him that he had paid a total of IR£80,000 to Mr Ahern while he was a Government minister.

It was alleged that IR£50,000 was paid in 1989 when Mr Ahern was Labour Minister, and IR£30,000 later when he was Finance Minister.

4. Are you still claiming that sterling lodgements were on behalf of your landlord?

The story became even more complex when Mr Ahern sought to portray the sterling amounts seen in the banking window as monies brought over from Manchester by a man named Micheál Wall, who was Mr Ahern’s landlord. It was “his money for his house”, and intended for refurbishment of the home, off Griffith Avenue in Dublin, to make it habitable to a standard fit for a Cabinet minister.

Mr Wall ran a coach business in Manchester, and attended Man United games at Old Trafford with Mr Ahern. He apparently brought cash over in bags whenever he paid a visit to Ireland – though why he had to lodge the money to his tenant’s benefit was unclear.

At one point it was being suggested that Mr Ahern’s girlfriend, beauty consultant Celia Larkin, was going to have a role in the home makeover.

5. Where did all the dollars come from?

The Tribunal findings were devastating in relation to a bewildering array of payments into bank and building society accounts. It found Mr Ahern “did not truthfully account for the origins of specific cash lodgements made to accounts held in his name, the name of his then minor daughters and in the name of Ms Larkin”.

But the dollars lodgement was particularly sensitive – Mr Ahern apparently had no pals or landlords living that far away. The December 1994 amount “had its origins in US$45,000”, the tribunal found – despite his denials of a foreign exchange conversion. The circumstances “whereby Mr Ahern came into possession of that amount of dollars remains unexplained”.

In total Mr Ahern failed to explain the true source of more than IR£165,000 old Irish pounds, or more than €200,000 at the time. And the tribunal was only looking into a strictly time-limited window into his financial affairs. If he defiantly failed to explain these sums to an investigation set up by the very Oireachtas in which he served, how can he be trusted in future by the citizens the Oireachtas represents? Or does he really think he can win a run for Áras an Uachtaráin?

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern rejoins Fianna Fáil more than 10 years after quitting the party

Bertie and Celia, grubby questions and broken hearts — how my award-winning story about the nursing homes scandal left a bitter aftertaste

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