Fresh inquiry into Haughey's finances

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A new tribunal is to investigate controversial decisions made by Charles Haughey while Taoiseach from 1979 to 1992 in the light of this week's report by a judicial inquiry confirming that his lavish way of life was secretly funded by a business ally, the Irish cabinet has decided.

The new inquiry is a concession to the widespread belief that the scale of Mr Haughey's regal living, spanning a large estate, yacht, racehorses and private island, must have required cash gifts from others besides Ben Dunne, the supermarket chief.

Mr Justice Brian McCracken's inquiry into payments to politicians by Mr Dunne confirmed he gave the then Taoiseach pounds 1.3m between 1987 and 1991. But its limited brief meant it was unable to ask how Haughey afforded spending far beyond his salary before and after that period. The inquiry heard his annual overheads were close to IRpounds 300,000 while Dunne was a benefactor.

Labour, Democratic Left and Fine Gael opposition parties want the new inquiry to examine the nature of Haughey's relationship with a series of leading Irish business figures who benefited from land and other deals while Haughey was Taoiseach. Mr Haughey resigned the premiership in January 1992 amid a row over a 10-year-old telephone-tapping scandal.

John Bruton, the Fine Gael leader, seeking to cause maximum embarrassment to Bertie Ahern, the new Taoiseach, urged him personally to ask Haughey, his predecessor as leader of Fianna Fail, to co- operate voluntarily with the new inquiry. Mr Haughey's failure to assist the McCracken investigation added hugely to the cost to taxpayers. Mr Bruton wants the new inquiry to cover Mr Haughey's entire finances over the last 25 years. Other Opposition parties have highlighted concern over decisions approved by Mr Haughey from state land purchases which benefited key supporters to investment in the beef industry.

A final decision on the new inquiry's terms of reference is likely to be made by Government and Opposition party leaders before the Dail meets on 10 and 11 September to consider the the McCracken report.

The Government will ask the McCracken tribunal to continue inquiries into who besides Mr Dunne put funds into the so-called Ansbacher deposits, a series of secret numbered bank accounts at one point containing pounds 38m, from which Mr Haughey received payments. There is growing pressure for scrutiny of a large cash donation handed to the foreign minister Ray Burke during the 1989 election.