Haughey fights to keep secrets surrounding pounds 1.3m gift

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Charles Haughey, the embattled former Irish prime minister, could seek a judicial review at the Dublin High Court today to maintain the secrecy of discussions about pounds 1.3m he received from a leading Irish supermarket chain.

Ben Dunne, the Irish supermarket magnate, confirmed last week that he had channelled pounds 1.3m to the heavily-indebted Mr Haughey, who served as Taoiseach between 1987 and 1991. The tribunal investigating payments to politicians, which was set up by the Irish government in February, has given Mr Haughey has until this afternoon to appear before it, or seek representation, if he wishes to contest an order forcing disclosure of the contents of five discussions he had with Noel Smyth, solicitor for Mr Dunne.

Three of the meetings took place at Mr Haughey's 18th-century Kinsealy mansion in north Dublin, and two at the home of Mr Haughey's neighbour to avoid publicity. The two houses are connected by a tunnel.

The tribunal, and the controversy surrounding it, has developed into a veritable bonfire of Irish politicians' reputations. Michael Lowry, the former transport minister, was forced to resign after revelations about how Mr Dunne paid for a pounds 214,000 extension to his house. Dunnes Stores charged the work, which included furnishings and a custom-made double bed, to one of its Dublin retail outlets - and valued it at pounds 395,000.

Last week the tribunal heard evidence that Mr Lowry, whose firm provided refrigeration services to Dunnes' stores, had received another pounds 105,000 via the Isle of Man. This payment had not been declared in Lowry's statement to the Dail on the affair. The serious tax implications of various payments revealed at the tribunal have aroused considerable public interest.

Proinsias de Rossa, the leader of Democratic Left, the junior party in the ruling Irish coalition, is now suggesting that Mr Lowry should stand down as a candidate in the forthcoming general election.

Mr Lowry yesterday appealed for privacy for his family after newspaper revelations of a relationship with a 35 year-old woman, with whom he was pictured on holiday in Spain while his wife and children were elsewhere on the Continent. The former minister resigned from the Fine Gael parliamentary party over the Dunne affair and intents to stand as an independent in his Tipperary North constituency.

Mr de Rossa, the minister for social welfare, told told his party's ard fheis (annual conference) in Dun Laoghaire that the relationship between business and politics had to be put above board once and for all.

John Bruton, the present Prime Minister, is to give evidence to the tribunal this morning, He is expected to explain the circumstances in which his Fine Gael party received pounds 180,000 in donations from Mr Dunne, which the party itself disclosed earlier.

This included a donation of pounds 100,000 which was secured by Mr Bruton after calling for a cup of tea at Mr Dunne's house.