|The Drumcondra Ma"a . . . businessmenwho make up Bertie Ahern's electoral machine, funding and supporting him, and for some, receiving state appointments . . . have been a vital in"uence on the Irish political landscape in the past two decades
'THEY'RE macho, toughguy builders, " according to one Drumcondra resident. "They're some of the nicest fellas you could meet, " according to another.
Charm, perhaps, is in the eye of the politically-prejudiced beholder, but one thing is certain: "tough-guy builders" or "nicest fellas", the Drumcondra Mafia (as Charlie Haughey dubbed them) have been an important influence on Ireland's political landscape in the past two decades, albeit an invisible one.
This weekend they have swapped their stools in Fagan's snug for the brash chrome facilities of City West and Fianna Fail's last hurrah before polling day.
"Most people wouldn't know them to see but they're always in the front row for Bertie's ard fheis speech, " discloses an insider.
All men, mostly in their 50s and bonded with Bertie by a mixture of childhood friendships and shared sports affiliations, they provide his constituency office, St Luke's (valued at 18,000 in the 2005 TDs' register of donations), and run his Dublin Central bailiwick on a system of wards and ward bosses with chessboard precision. These were the men who passed the hat around for him in 1993 when he was minister for finance, collecting IR�39,000 to foot the legal bill for his marital separation.
Yet they have also stayed loyal to Bertie's estranged wife, Miriam Ahern, who is still regarded as part of the Drumcondra set, as are his brothers, junior minister Noel and councillor Maurice. (The house in Church Avenue where the Aherns grew up is still owned by the family and lies at the heart of the constituency. ) "Look, Bertie doesn't have a wife and his children are grown up, " explains a Leinster House denizen.
"He's the first leader of Fianna Fail not to have friends in the parliamentary party. He doesn't frequent the Dail bar or restaurant. He drinks in Fagan's and Beaumont House and The Goose with the Drumcondra Mafia. Those lads don't hang around Leinster House.
"Anybody worth their salt in politics has a group of hardcore supporters.
They keep their eyes and ears open for anything their man needs to know.
To paraphrase PJ Mara, they make sure there's no one nibbling at his bum. If you look at Bertie's crew, Burke's done alright, Richardson's done alright, Collins has done alright.
Their appointments to state boards open doors for them in business."
Friday's opinion poll prediction that Fianna Fail could lose one of its two seats in the taoiseach's four-seat constituency is taken as proof by some of his critics that the Bertie machine in Dublin Central is the Praetorian guard, not so much of the local party organisation as of the "Independent Republic of Bertie Ahern".
An impartial observer remarks: "His pals are messianic about him".
Loyalists (including new general election candidate senator Cyprian Brady, who has run St Luke's for 20 years) dismiss the criticism.
"His friends have built up a model election machine, " says one. "Other politicians around the country model theirs on it. Even the Provos would take their hat off to it."
Though his home boasts one of the southside's toniest addresses, Torquay Road in Foxrock, Fianna Fail's former chief fundraiser (1993-1999) is the best-known member of the Drumcondra set. A contributor to Bertie's Dublin whipround in the same year that he set up an office in the Berkeley Court Hotel to eradicate Fianna Fail's debt by raising IR�2.5m, he organises the annual Fianna Fail tent at the Galway Races, a magnet for wealthy builders happy to be seen supporting the party.
He became friendly with Bertie Ahern in the 1970s through following Shamrock Rovers and accompanied him to Manchester in September 1994 when a number of businessmen donated stg�8,000 to the then finance minister.
A member of the fundraising committee in the taoiseach's O'Donovan Rossa Cumann in Drumcondra, he was appointed to the board of Aer Lingus by Mary O'Rourke, where he remained until 2000.
He is the former chairman of Dave McKenna's Marlborough Recruitment and held shares in a consultancy firm called Berraway Ltd, with an address in Upper Mount Street which is also occupied by Frank Dunlop's PR company. (Richardson has given evidence at the planning tribunal about his relationship with Dunlop, the former government press secretary who disbursed bribes for planning permissions. ) Berraway was dissolved in 1999.
An activist in Dublin Central since the 1970s and a trustee of St Luke's, Collins' occupation is described as "land agent".
He was appointed to the board of Enterprise Ireland in 1998, after Bertie Ahern was first elected taoiseach.
Judge Alan Mahon described as "extraordinary" his lapse of memory during his initial appearance at the planning tribunal when questioned about his role in the OPW's purchase of the Battle of the Boyne site for 9.4m from the Fyffes-owning McCann family. The McCanns had acquired the site only a few months earlier for 3.4m.
Collins' finder's fee for the deal was 600,000.
His name surfaced in another context at the planning tribunal last year when it emerged that he had introduced Frank Dunlop to one of three business men seeking rezoning of land at Dublin Airport.
Bertie Ahern informed the Dail that it was Tim Collins who accompanied him to a meeting in the Department of Labour in 1988 with the Luton-based property developer, Tom Gilmartin, while the latter was trying to develop Bachelor's Walk and Quarryvale in Dublin.
Collins and Des Richardson were directors of a company called the Pilgrim Group which provided consultancy services to property developers.
SENATOR TONY KETT
A native of Ballinasloe, Kett was coopted to Dublin city council to fill the vacancy left by Bertie Ahern in 1988.
A former administrator of the Central Remedial Clinic, he was first elected to the Seanad in 1997 and re-elected in 2002.
He holds a constituency clinic in St Luke's every Tuesday evening.
Said to be a key member of the Drumcondra set, he is another trustee of St Luke's. He was in the travelling party to Manchester with Ahern in 1994 when the whipround was conducted in the Four Seasons Hotel.
Journalists ringing his home at the height of the Bertiegate controversy last autumn were told he was unavailable for comment as he was undergoing elective surgery.
He has travelled to the US with the taoiseach for St Patrick's Day in the past. The website of an American pub shows a photograph of Kett and the taoiseach, informally attired and raising their glasses as if toasting the camera.
THESE days McKenna is the executive chairman of Vimio, a TV and music provider to mobile phones, with offices on the northside of Dublin, but the former plumber has had an up-and-down career. Having bought Marlborough Recruitment out of liquidation in 1992 and floated it on the Dublin and London stock exchanges in 1998, the company shut down in 2000 with 300 jobs lost.
Frequently seen in the taoiseach's company in Fagan's pub, he brought Ahern to several Manchester United matches as his guest, sometimes travelling in his private jet, in the late 1990s and regularly attends both the annual St Luke's fundraising dinner in Clontarf Castle and the Galway Races. He was originally introduced to Bertie Ahern by Des Richardson, the trio sharing a fondness for Shamrock Rovers.
McKenna was appointed to the board of Enterprise Ireland in 1998 where he remained until 2002.
REILLY is best known as 'Paddy The Plasterer' since the taoiseach introduced him to the nation in his famous "Bertiegate" television interview last autumn. He has shot from obscurity to national attention, despite having toiled as a key member of the Drumcondra Mafia for a couple of decades.
He inspired an eponymous song by Mario Rosenstock featured on the Gift Grub CD.
Appointed director of organisation for the forthcoming general election, he is a veteran ward boss in Dublin Central, with a dedicated team answering to him. His patch is around the Griffith Avenue/Homefarm Road area, close to his own redbrick home in Drumcondra.
"He gets things done, " says a source, "and he's very close to Bertie."
A plasterer by trade, he has become a wealthy property owner in central Dublin and was one of the contributors to Bertie's whipround in 1993.
After years of anonymity, he stole the spotlight before kick-off at the Ireland-England Six Nations match in Croke Park, which he attended in the VIP section with the taoiseach.
Just before Christmas, he benefited again when he and his wife were invited to view the winter solstice at Newgrange as guests of the taoiseach.
About 20,000 members of the public apply for tickets for the event every year. Other guests last December included the new US and British ambassadors, the OPW minister, Tom Parlon and PD deputy leader Liz O'Donnell
A FORMER Dublin city councillor, Burke's building company, J&H Burke & Son, went into liquidation last December. It specialised in renovating pubs. A resident of Malahide in north county Dublin, he was controversially appointed chairman of the Dublin Port Company in 2002 and his 15,200-a-year tenure is due to expire on 26 April next.
The taoiseach defended the appointment on the grounds that his friend had "a number of attributes", including his wife's family, who was "very involved in the port, is from the port and lived in the port".
Burke is a frequent doorstep canvasser for Bertie in the constituency and a member of the fundraising committee of the O'Donovan Rossa Cumann. The taoiseach told the Dail that Joe Burke met Tom Gilmartin in St Luke's in 1989 on his behalf while the Luton-based developer was trying to build shopping centres in Quarryvale and Bachelor's Walk.
THE former operations director of Glaxo Wellcome is better known as Christy in Dublin Central, where he is an established member of the taoiseach's kitchen cabinet. A tireless door-to-door canvasser, there is some concern that he might be constrained in the looming election campaign by the onset of arthritis.
A leading light in national athletics, he was the team manager for the Seoul Olympics and served as international secretary of Bord Luthchleas na hEireann. When that merged with the National Athletic and Cultural Association of Ireland to form the Athletics Association of Ireland, he continued to play an active role. His home club is Dublin City Harriers.
A member of Fianna Fail's national executive, he was appointed a director of Aer Lingus in December 1998.