On the possible return of Bertie Ahern to the political stage….
David Wall writes:
The Liberal Left: architects of the modern day malaise we find ourselves in, the ones to blame for the plight of the worker, the state of the country, the failure of multiculturalism. The lily livered left have much to answer for.
Yet this argument is baffling. I can understand the words, but not the logic. Surely for the left to be blamed for the current climate we find ourselves in the parties of the left must have been in power.
The media must be propagating a socialist policy whereby the right are victimised and we have been led blindly to our own social destruction by Trotskyites.
Who could forget those great liberal lefties Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron. Those soft hearted, socially pandering politicians have made left leaning decisions constantly at the expense of private industry and profit making.
These valiant champions of the working people have hindered the development of private wealth. These men and women who have consistently stripped a magnificent health service of public funding, given their schools to private companies and privatised their postal service at a loss must surely be left leaning. Somehow this is the logic that we meet.
That the left is to blame for modern problems and yet they have had no power (before people jump on the inclusion of Tony Blair I am aware he was a Labour P.M. however his actions outdid even the conservatives).
Let’s not forget our own social warriors like Charlie McCreevy, Phil Hogan and Charlie Haughey. All liberal lefties who have crippled our country through their socially minded inclusive policies.
How these men, representative of the political class, have brought the private sector to its knees is astounding. These Guevaras, these valiant men must be saluted as heroes of the left. Not to mention the left leaning media as owned by Denis O’ Brien and Rupert Murdoch.
Now, as we face crises both nationally and internationally our main opposition party, who are propping up a floundering government, are inviting back the architect of our travails. A man, who resigned rather than be banished, is being brought back as the great white hope.
Here is a man who knows how to win elections, knows his constituency inside out and knows exactly his own role in our plight. And here is a public being ridiculed again. The arrogance of both centre right parties is astonishing and would be hilarious if it wasn’t so insulting.
The reason I am writing this is because I am sick of hearing how the left are to blame, regardless of the problem. The left have not been in power to actually make any decisions in Ireland, England or the US. In fact there is no liberal left in Ireland. Both of our functioning parties are to the right of centre. This is indisputable.
The left is in disarray both here and in England while the middle class and working class get squeezed tighter and tighter. Of course nothing changes because there is no option. There is no alternative to politics of the right in Ireland.
The media dismisses the parties who try to take up the mantle of the left as being radical and loony. They are presented as being incapable and even to blame for where we are now.
All the while the established parties somehow are presented as the safe option. The parties who forced us into this crisis and who implemented a failed austerity policy are the ones to trust.
This leads me again back to where I started…the damn left have got us into this trouble. Let’s keep voting the same heroes back into power. If we do, maybe we can keep the housing crisis going, watch homelessness rise, see the privatisation of water we already pay for, watch hospital overcrowding reach record highs on a weekly basis and maybe see a rise in emigration again.
Education Minister Richard Bruton speaking on RTÉ Radio One at lunchtime
Audrey Carville, on RTÉ’s News At One, interviewed Minister for Education Richard Bruton earlier today.
The interview followed an earlier report by Conor McMorrow which included exchanges between Independents 4 Change TD Clare Daly and Taoiseach Enda Kenny in the Dáil this morning, ahead of tomorrow’s vote on Independents 4 Change TD Mick Wallace’s bill on fatal foetal abnormalities.
During her speech, Ms Daly said:
“You hide behind the advice of the Attorney General, advice we haven’t seen, advice which is substantially at variance with the advice of other Attorney Generals and disputed by a whole array of legal experts. Taoiseach, my question to you is: who do you think you are? That you believe that you can allow the continued violation of human rights. The constitution can never be used to deal with this. If you haven’t go the leadership or the guts to do it yourself, will you stop using your position to block the courts or the people from dealing with this.”
During the interview…
Audrey Carville: “Just, following on there from those exchanges [between Ms Daly and Mr Kenny], Clare Daly says your government, and others, have been repeatedly told by the UN and others that you’re violating women’s human rights. Is that acceptable to you?”
Richard Bruton: “No, it’s certainly not. I think the situation though is three times attempts have been made to change the Constitution in this area and three times they failed. Now they’re on different issues but it clearly shows that constitutional change needs careful preparation and that’s what the Citizens’ Assembly is designed to do. Now in the context of Deputy Wallace’s bill, the medical advise has been absolutely stark, that this bill would be of no value to mothers or to doctors who would be faced with the sort of difficult situation that Clare Daly described. The Attorney General’s view is also clear, that this bill conflicts with the constitution. So we are driven back to the situation that if we want change, we have to create an environment where the people can reflect on the change that’s needed and make a decision in due course in a referendum, that’s the only way which you can change a constitution which provides a protection, at present, for the unborn with due regard to the life of the mother.”
Carville: “Indeed, so why not just call the referendum? Everything else is a delaying tactic.”
Bruton: “That’s not the case. I mean, as I say, efforts have been made in the past to change the constitution and have failed and I think that experience that we have seen for example, in dealing with this issue when we were simply trying to legislate, as you know, for the Life in Pregnancy Bill in the last session, that the work of having a Citizens’ Assembly reflect or hearings, to reflect on the content and what changes were about was really important to getting the degree of support that was possible. This is really complicated when you go to the people. And people will have to be able to see when they are faced with a vote, what it is they’re voting on, what are the implications of the changes that are being proposed to them. And that will take careful teasing out. There are many cases that will have to be teased out. Fatal foetal abnormality and other situations like rape and incest where very difficult circumstances are consulted…”
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former Tanaiste Mary Harney
In the Irish Times on September 11, 1999…
The newspaper’s then chief political correspondent Denis Coghlan wrote:
Publication of a Government Green Paper on abortion has reopened divisive debate and raised the prospect of serious friction between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. In 1992 Albert Reynolds sought to roll back the Supreme Court judgment in the X case and dared Dessie O’Malley to risk a general election on the issue. This time, Bertie Ahern seems willing to face down Mary Harney.
Of course, we don’t know precisely what the Taoiseach has in mind. And he is unlikely to tell us in the short term. But the pre-election commitment he gave to the Irish Catholic in 1997 appears to lean towards a restriction of the X case judgment or a legislative restatement of the prohibition on abortion.
But nothing is static in politics, and the commitment given by the Fianna Fail leader in opposition could crumble in the face of internal and external pressures. The only certainty at this stage is that Mr Ahern and his backbenchers are the main comfort-providers to the anti-abortion lobby and are anxious to retain its support.
The Progressive Democrats are doing what they did in 1992: reluctantly going along with a process they do not relish.
On the first occasion, the collapse of the coalition government allowed Mr O’Malley to advocate legislation to deal with the implications of the X case, rather than the constitutional referendum put forward by Mr Reynolds. And there is no indication that party policy has changed under the Tanaiste.
Reaching a consensus on this issue within Cabinet appears as remote as the possibility of Brian Lenihan and his all-party Committee of the Constitution producing an agreed set of recommendations.
For the main Opposition parties are still firmly entrenched in the positions they took up in 1997, when Mr Ahern resurrected abortion as an election issue.
Yesterday Alan Shatter of Fine Gael dutifully reiterated the position adopted by John Bruton when he was Taoiseach. The party was opposed to a referendum, he said, because no constitutional wording could fully and properly address this difficult area.
And they were concerned that any legislation would have the opposite effect to that intended, when applied in practice or interpreted by the courts.
Rather than embark on another referendum, Mr Shatter said, the Government should expand counselling services for women in crisis pregnancies and reform the adoption laws and services so that adoption would be seen as a preferred alternative to abortion.
Ruairi Quinn took a similar line. The way to reduce the number ofabortions among Irish women was to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies through education on sexuality, personal responsibility and access to contraception.
As for the deliberations of the all-party Committee on the Constitution, Mr Quinn felt it was unlikely to come to a different conclusion from that reached by the Expert Committee on the Constitution in 1995.
That approach would require giving legislative effect to the Supreme Court judgment in the X case, and was the position favoured by the Labour Party.
The Government sub-committee that produced the Green Paper – Brian Cowen, Mary O’Rourke, John O’Donoghue, Michael McDowell and Liz O’Donnell – took the five recommendations of the expert committee and expanded them to seven.
Four of the recommendations were common: the insertion of an absolute ban on abortion in the Constitution; to legislate for the X case; to restrict the terms of the X case’ and to return to the pre-1983 position.
The fifth recommendation from the expert committee suggested amending Article 40.3.3 so as to legalise abortion in constitutionally defined circumstances.
This was reworked into two options by the Government sub-committee: amend the Constitution so as to restrict application of the X case, and retain the “status quo” with a legislative restatement of the prohibition on abortion.
Finally, the sub-committee suggested that abortion might be permitted on grounds beyond those specified in the X case.
The last referendum on abortion, in 1992, clarified one issue. A solid 35 per cent of the electorate opposed giving women the right to travel and information on abortion.
It was that constituency Mr Ahern courted as Fianna Fail’s new leader in 1995 when he allowed his backbenchers off the leash to oppose Michael Noonan’s legislation giving effect to the electorate’s decisions to permit travel and abortion information.
Having established his anti-abortion credentials, Mr Ahern went on to cultivate that constituency by establishing an expert group on abortion within Fianna Fail.
Two years later he promised a referendum and legislation in the run-up to the general election of 1997.
At the time, his announcement went down like a lead balloon with the Progressive Democrats.
More than two years after those promises were made, the public is no wiser about what precisely the Taoiseach has in mind.
An early notion about utilising Article 27 of the Constitution has been dropped. The status of a commitment to draft the heads of legislation that would be put to the people – as happened in the divorce referendum – is unclear.
The Taoiseach now appears to be taking cover behind the Oireachtas committee and collective Cabinet responsibility.
It is a delicate stage in the exercise. The next step will involve open-ended consideration by the all-party committee on the Constitution. If a miracle happens and agreement is reached there on a way forward, the matter will come back to the Government. There could then be further consultations, a White Paper and a referendum/legislation.
It should come as no surprise that in spite of pressure from the Independent TDs, Mildred Fox and Harry Blaney, few Ministers expect a referendum to be held in the lifetime of this Government.
But anti-abortion groups are determined to pressurise the Government and Fianna Fail backbenchers into completing the process by next summer.
They have a mountain to climb. Resistance to an outright constitutional ban on abortion is widespread within the political system. Mr Ahern may be anxious to retain their support in advance of the next general election.
But he may be neither willing nor able to deliver their demands.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern spoke to Pat Kenny on Newstalk earlier after Fianna Fáil’s general secretary directed that the party’s General Election candidates in the Dublin South Central and Dublin Central constituencies must be women – in order to satisfy new gender quota rules which state 30 per cent of a party’s candidates must be female.
Mr Ahern told Newstalk:
“I don’t agree with it, Pat. If you want my honest opinion, I think it’s zany but I think whether it’s a man or a woman, whoever comes through the position [deserves the nomination]. I have served at cabinet table with very formidable ladies like Mary O’Rourke, Mary Harney and Mary Coughlan, who came through the ranks.”
“The idea, like in my old constituency, the ruling is that they’re not allowed not nominate [a male] so there’s no point in a man even contesting the convention because even if he won it, he wouldn’t get through. And, you know, imagine if it was the other way around, if it was only a male person being allowed through? I bet you your programme this morning would be exclusively be on that issue, but some genius thought it up and then, you know, there goes it.”
“I think it’s mad. I think the idea that a person who works their way through the system, works their way through their branch or Cuman or organisation, gets themselves popular with the public, with the local organisations, then comes to the convention of the party and (the party is) saying ‘yes you have done a very good job in the last ten years, breaking your neck in your community, breaking it through with the organisation, but you happen to be the wrong gender, so go away’.”
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appeared before the Banking Inquiry yesterday.
On the Irish economy at the time of his stepping down
Chairman Ciarán Lynch: “At the time of handing over to Mr. Cowen as Taoiseach, did you believe that the fundamentals of the Irish economy was sound at that time?
Bertie Ahern: “Definitely, and I believed that all of the indicators from the Department of Finance economic review of 2008 to 2010, from the IMF, the ESRI and all of the others were indicating that we would grow between something from 3% to 5% over the years immediately ahead.”
On how his opening statement is very similar to his autobiography
Pearse Doherty: “Mr. Ahern, it’s the second time I’ve listened and read some of the testimony and maybe you’ll start by explaining why parts of your opening statement to the banking inquiry are taken directly, word for word, from your autobiography?”
Ahern: “Because that was my position when I did my autobiography and I haven’t changed the position. I’m consistent.”
Doherty: “And the years haven’t … you haven’t reflected on those positions here? You’re happy with what … as time past, you haven’t changed your position on it?”
Ahern: “I haven’t changed my position.”
On proposals to abolish property-based tax incentives and on whether they helped create Ireland’s property bubble
Doherty: “In 2004, very soon after coming into office, the Minister for Finance commissioned two reports on … to review property-based tax incentives, which had already been extended from 2002 to 2004 by his predecessor. Who decided to commission these reports, Mr. Ahern, and did you support the decision or did you argue for the abolition of these tax incentives in 2004, as was originally planned but never actually happened?”
Ahern: “No, I don’t … I don’t think I argued for the abolition. Remember, there were about 24, was it, 24 different taxes. Some of them were expensive; some of them were not. Some of them were very beneficial; some of them were dubious whether they were or they weren’t. And the view, when Minister Cowen, and I remember him well, he was very anxious to deal with them. It had been a departmental view, I think Mr. McNally has informed you of that, and that was the view of the Department. But I think, as you know, Deputy, from the time a lot of the incentives came in, in the urban renewal in 1986 by the Garret FitzGerald … the late Garret FitzGerald’s Government, they were forever being extended.
Doherty: “But they were supposed to cease in 2004—–”
Doherty: “—–did you support the extension of the reliefs from 2004 to 2006, even the ones that you say today that may have been dubious?
Ahern: “Oh, I support them. I support them.”
Ahern: “—–I was just going to say that I think I was meant to end some of them back in 1993.
Doherty: “…do you believe that the extension of these property reliefs to the construction sector sustained and helped create a property bubble?
Ahern: “Yes, I do.”
Doherty: “Okay, and when did you become of that view?”
Ahern: “It probably would be about 2009.”
Doherty: “So you didn’t believe that there was a property bubble prior to May 2008 at least, when you left the Office of the Department of the Taoiseach, but you did believe that there was a property boom in 2006 that was getting boomier; is that … would that be correct?”
Ahern: “Well, I wanted to … Deputy, I wanted to see it slow down. I had broken my back from 1997 to try to get the supply side … when I came in as Taoiseach, there was, in the Central Bank’s terms, a bubble, or at least shortly afterwards. we had moved from building 20,000 houses in 1990 to 42,000 houses when I came into office. It was believed at that time by all the experts that we needed to get to 50,000 to take the heat out of the market. Everything we did, and the Bacon reports and all of the other efforts that were made, were all to try and get supply up and we believed that if we got supply up, we’d get an equilibrium that would balance the situation—–
On the Galway tent
Ahern: “…there was no big deal. There was literally no big deal between the connections in the Fianna Fáil tent and the construction industry. It was a social occasion and I wish I had been able to influence maybe some of those people but I don’t … I heard your questions previously about this and you [Pearse Doherty] seem to have a bit of an obsession with the Fianna Fáil tent, as many people have. But it wasn’t any big deal and there was no big business done. And I assure you this, Deputy, I assure you this. And I wish it had been different, that I had known the extent of the exposure from some of those people, and there was some of them, that they had to the banks. Because in the last seven years, as you’d appreciate, I have had good, sensible conversations with many decent people and they believe that not alone did I know the figures but that I had the files, and that I knew exactly what every developer in this country owed and what exposure with the banks. But the fact is, as you know, Deputy, I had none of that information because I wasn’t entitled to any of that. That’s a matter under AK33, which is totally confidential and only the Central Bank and the regulator had it.”
On his interaction with property developers
Ahern: “I don’t believe that I, personally, had much interaction with property developers. I did deal a considerable amount with the CIF. They were one of the social partners. Regularly I dealt with them in the sectoral meetings of social partnership and, as your book of evidence shows, I had a number of meetings with them, not that many, but they did come in to state their case. But in no way do I think any of the political activities of the party I was a member of in any way influenced any of the decisions that we made.”
On his suicide comment
Ahern: “I had two very good friends who died from suicide in the ’90s. I never should have said that. And three minutes after I came off the stage, I apologised for that. That was just a totally wrong thing to say. But what I was talking about that day was confidence, that yes things were getting more difficult, and was before liquidity. But I was talking to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions in Donegal and I was saying “Listen, we have to have confidence, we have to have belief, we have to work together, we have to pull together.” And I’m sure you’ve seen that speech. And, unscripted then I, unfortunately, said that and, of course, like lots of things in life, everyone forgets what I said in the rest of that speech. But I think that speech was a speech of trying to give confidence and stability and I don’t think there was anything wrong that.”
On the 2001 EU Council censure against Ireland for its failure to use fiscal policy to ensure economic stability after joining the Eurozone and the 2011 Wright Report which found Ireland failed the test of prudent fiscal management
Eoghan Murphy: “…on page 48 of the Wright Report, it says that, when talking about the monetary union, the impacts on the Irish economy and what should have been done with fiscal policy, it says, “Ireland failed the test of prudent fiscal management.” Do you accept that?
Ahern: “I accept it now in hindsight because we would have built up bigger balances. But can I say at the time, Deputy, we still had over 10% unemployment. We still had an inability to give jobs to the young people in this country. And it seemed to me … and today if it weren’t have been for what happened … to be writing down debt, which we were, substantially, saving interest payments, growing the economy, creating jobs, bringing in foreign investment, spending on infrastructure, having a balanced budget and creating surpluses. You know, if that wasn’t complying with what he wanted us to do, I don’t know what was.
Murphy: “That’s not what I wanted you to do, Mr. Ahern, but does that mean that you didn’t … that you ignored the censure from the Council?
Ahern: “No, I—–”
Murphy: “If you accept what Mr. Wright says, that we failed the test of prudent fiscal management, and Mr. Cowen accepted that as well when he was before us, does that mean you ignored the European Council?
Ahern: “If you asked me to say now, if you asked me to say now … should we have built up more balances if we knew there was going to be a bust in 2008? Yes. If you ask me from the position where I was Taoiseach … chairing the Cabinet in 1998, 2000, where we had unemployment and a whole lot of infrastructure which we had to deal with, and a demand to try to bring up the country to EU averages, then the answer was no at that stage. Like if hindsight was foresight, you know, I’d be a billionaire and so would you. But at the time I thought what we were doing was conservative. And in fact I was considered a conservative at that stage.”
On warnings from the Central Bank
Murphy: “I want to stick to looking at what was being warned … the warnings from the Central Bank in relation to the budgetary policy of your Government. If we look at the Central Bank pre-budget letter … towards the end of 2000, this is for the budget for 2001. It warned that despite the strong surplus position the case against an expansionary budget is convincing, as this would heighten the risk of a hard landing for the economy. Did you ignore that advice when agreeing the budget for 2001?”
Ahern: “I don’t think the Minister did, quite frankly … I think—–”
Murphy : “Even though the next two budgets were expansionary budgets, going against the advice of the Central Bank.”
Ahern: “2001 to 2003 … after the dotcom, or during the dotcom period, were not considered expansionary budgets. You know, taking into account the fact that we had a lot of money into the system and, you know, we had a growing economy.”
Murphy : “I’ll just cut across, Mr. Ahern, sorry … just … because the figures shows that in 2002 spending was 22% up on the previous year for the first six months. Is that not expansionary?”
Ahern: “The … what was the current budget deficit in 2002?”
Murphy: “Is that not expansionary, Mr. Ahern?”
Ahern: “No, but what’s the current budget deficit? Like, with the greatest respect, if you’re the Minister of Finance and the Department of Finance and you’re devising your budget and I’ve been lucky enough to be at a Cabinet table, I think, for about 20 of them, you’re looking at what your current budget deficit is, you’re looking what your Exchequer borrowing requirement is, you’re looking at what your debt-to-GDP ratio is, you’re looking at what your income is and you’re taking all these things into account. I’m not disagreeing with … but I’m just saying, Deputy, you can’t take one in isolation from the others. That’s all I’m saying to you.”
On the Nyberg Report
Murphy: “Do you accept the findings of the Nyberg report on page 4, where it says: “As demonstrated by the previous scoping reports, although clearly affected by external conditions as set out above, the Irish crisis was in all essential aspects home-grown.”?”
Ahern: “Yes, I read that. I’m not sure; I’m not sure.”
Murphy: “You’re not sure.”
Ahern: “I’m not sure.”
Chairman: “Could you elaborate on that level of uncertainty?”
Ahern: “Yes, I don’t … there were two major things happened, Chairman. The amount of taxation that was directly related to the residential … to property was too high … too high and, you know, I accept responsibility for that. I was head of Government … 24%, almost 25% in the economy, you know … you know, that was ghastly when you look back at it … you see it. On the other side, you look at what the banks did … you know, the Nyberg report, all that happened on the banking side. But the bit I’m not too sure of … the international crisis that came on top of it … talk about all the cards being played against you in one go, Chairman. I think sometimes we forget … internationally … just the extent of what was happening worldwide in those few months. Rightly so, we looked at what was happening in Ireland and how it was effecting us and the banks … and … but look at what was happening worldwide, the extent of the investment bank system … the banking system put the world under … to get that on top of our problems … I’m not defending our problems. I’ve said the two vulnerabilities that were there – one I take for responsibility for, I take no responsibility – none – for what was happening in the Central Bank or in the Financial Regulator because I had no knowledge or control over it, despite what people think and accuse me of. But the international hit … the international hit was just massive and I think that … to, kind of, say that had nothing to do with it does … I’m not … if I was here with him, I had have an argument with him but he’s not. But I just think that is too harsh a statement and I would like be able to argue that point with him.”
On the setting up of a domestic standing group and the ‘green jersey’ agenda
Murphy: “Thank you, Chair. Just to move on then, if I may, Mr. Ahern, to 2007 and you established the domestic standing group. Did you pay any attention to its work?”
Ahern: “The domestic standing group?”
Ahern: “No, not a lot. I knew it was there. I’ve said what I said in my statement about it. I was aware that they were meeting but we did not receive the reports in the Department of the Taoiseach from it. We weren’t … we didn’t participate in it. None of my officials were on it and we weren’t … we were not being briefed and I cannot ever recall being briefed at the Cabinet on it either.”
Murphy: “So were you were aware of the increasing liquidity problem facing the banks from 2007 on?”
Murphy: “You were aware of that problem?”
Murphy: “And did you do anything about it?”
Ahern: “I discussed it. And when I came back from holidays that year, I discussed it with the Governor and we had numerous discussions on the liquidity issue … ongoing discussions all the way from August 2007 right until the time I left. The liquidity issue was … I would have numerous, numerous discussions with the Minister for Finance.”
Murphy: “Were you aware, then, that the Governor of the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator went to each of the banks in March-April 2008, in what was called “the green jersey” agenda – because one Irish bank couldn’t borrow from anyone and another Irish bank couldn’t get any money from the other Irish banks – to ask the banks to lend to each other? Were you aware of that initiative?”
Ahern: “I wasn’t.”
Murphy: “You weren’t aware of that?”
On Mr Ahern previously stating that he would “have loved” if someone had told him about the problems in Irish banks
Murphy: “Okay, so why did you say when you left the Dáil that, ”I would have loved if somebody somewhere had of told me what was going on in the banks in this country, but nobody ever did”, and you just told me that you did know about the increasing liquidity problems facing the banks and you had spoken to the Central Bank Governor about it?
Ahern: “I was talking about the point which I dealt with earlier to Deputy Doherty that the extent that so few people owed so much and with very poor guarantees and very poor stress tests or checks on their ability to be able to deal with those loans. That’s the point I was dealing with.”
Murphy: “And just—–”
Ahern: “I never was given that detail.”
On meeting property developers in Government buildings
John Paul Phelan: “… I’m not going to refer to them all … but over the page on page 71, following on from the letter from Mr. O’Flynn, there’s a briefing note prepared for you, and it’s says:
Meeting With Delegation of Builders to Discuss Housing Issues
Thursday 8 July, 2004 at 2 pm, Taoiseach’s Meeting Room
The delegation comprises:
Michael O’Flynn, O’Flynn Construction
Sean Mulryan, Ballymore Properties
Bernard McNamara, Michael McNamara and Co.
Ken MacDonald, Hooke and MacDonald
Were … did many of these meetings take place in your time as Taoiseach? This seems to … and there’s a reference, I think, in the previous letter to “reassembling” a group of developers to meet you; in other words, that there had been previous meetings. Do you think it appropriate that such meetings happened in Government Buildings? And can you outline maybe a bit of what was discussed?
Ahern: “That particular one was about affordable housing, and for first-time buyers. I think you can, you see it there, with the policies that brought the success we have to make sure that we respond to the problems such as affordability for some buyers. I had been making a number of speeches. And in the Dáil, more than anything, the issue of affordability was a major issue. And that group of developers came with a number of ideas about how it could help and they had ideas about getting land or … you know, in areas in the greater Dublin area where the biggest problem was … where there were big … the old corporation schemes, council schemes, where there was land and that if … a lot of these areas were causing social problems. That if the land … if the local authority would give it to the developers, they could build houses which the local authority then could give to people on the local authority list who wanted to buy houses. So it wasn’t a bad idea or if the State would give land where they … so you’d take … and part of the reason for that, as you know, Chairman, in the late 90s the cost of land was about 13% of a price of a house and it went up to about close enough to 25% of the price of a house. So it was a big factor on affordability. In fact, many of the economists at the time were saying that we should be looking at the land issue as much as any other issue. But that’s what that meeting was about … it was particularly they advocating that they had a social conscience and they would play ball to try to help to deal with the either social-affordable housing. Very little happened out of it because the concepts of taking over the land and taking over land beside—–
Phelan: “Can you see now, I suppose with the benefit of hindsight, and you’ve mentioned hindsight yourself earlier on, that how such a meeting between such a significant group of developers would portray a relationship … could portray, I should say, I can’t lead you, that might have existed between Government and those people at the time?”
Ahern: “Of course, I can understand how it could. But you know, the fact it was with officials I tended as best I could but I can’t say I always did…you know, to make sure I would have an official and it would be properly done. But I have to say, most of the time when it came to their own issues … their own agenda, they didn’t need to come in … they had a very strong lobby with the CIF who were very well resourced and were very vocal and, you know, were after all Departments including me. I tended to meet them regularly in the sectoral meetings around social partnership but—–”
Phelan: “How often would you have met the CIF? Just to … I’m sorry now, Chairman.”
Phelan: “In a year, say, for example?”
Ahern: “In the social partnership concept where everybody was there, I would meet a number of times.”
Phelan: “But outside of that … extra lobbying and everything?”
Ahern: “Except they had some issue where they wanted to come in, not that many times. But they’d show up once or twice a year, you know. They were like the IFA, if anything was around, they were in.”
On meeting the Regulator
Chairman: “How often did you meet the regulator, Mr. Ahern?”
Chairman: “You never met the regulator?”
Ahern: “No. should rephrase, I did attend once a year to the Clearing House annual dinner where I used to do an annual statement of, kind of, what had been achieved and what had for … what’s next year’s agenda. But the regulator I never … sorry, I could have met the regulator at that because he was—–”
Chairman: “Was that as Taoiseach or as Minister for Finance?”
Ahern: “No, that was as Taoiseach.”
Chairman: “As Taoiseach. But that was just, kind of … to paraphrase, just, kind of, a knees-up in the evening where there’s a dinner and there’s a speech and all—–”
Ahern: “Dinner at lunchtime was always a—–”
Chairman: “This would be—–”
Ahern: “But I never … the regulator never, never came in to me.”
Chairman: “Okay, fine.”
Read a full transcript of Mr Ahern’s appearance at the Banking Inquiry here