Joe Burke, the Dublin Port chairman who is facing allegations of sexual assault, was minutes from death when gardai found him slumped over the steering wheel of his Mercedes on January 2, the Sunday Independent has learned.
As the garda investigation into the allegations against Mr Burke continues, he is said to be slowly recovering, but still seriously ill, at a private hospital near the South Dublin home of his girlfriend, Senator Maria Corrigan.
Ms Corrigan last night spoke for the first time since the latest controversy surrounding her partner broke.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Independent at her home yesterday afternoon, she asked that the privacy of all those affected be respected while the investigation into her partner continued.
She also revealed that her partner, Mr Burke, was in no position to defend himself as he is still gravely ill, and that in his absence, the facts of the case could not be established.
Sitting in the livingroom of her Leopardstown home, Ms Corrigan said: "This has been a very difficult time for everybody concerned. Joe is very ill. There has been much speculation, but, at present, none of the facts have been established, and until they have been, I would just sincerely request that Joe’s privacy, Joe’s family’s privacy and my privacy be respected."
Mr Burke’s condition is understood to be serious to the point that gardai will not be in a position to interview him for some time, making it impossible for detectives to advance their investigation to the stage where they might present a file for consideration to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
A close friend of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Mr Burke had already faced similar allegations of having committed a sexual assault just three years ago at the same house in Malahide. The claims were made by a young woman shortly after the breakdown of Mr Burke’s marriage to his wife of 30 years, Helen.
While that allegation never made it to court, serious concerns were raised by the Dublin Port chief’s friends in relation to his emotional well-being.
Close friends of Mr Burke, from within the Taoiseach’s Drumcondra set, say he became a different person after suffering serious health problems, which contributed to a significant change in his personality.
They say Mr Burke also began to use slimming tablets around this time, which saw him lose seven stone over a dramatically short period.
Mr Burke, who organised the second good-will loan for Mr Ahern in 2004, subsequently became a regular figure on the social scene, particularly in city centre pubs and nightclubs such as Lillie’s Bordello, where he mixed with influential businessmen and young women.
The latest allegations against him are a serious blow to his continuing chairmanship of the Dublin Port Ccompany.
If the allegations are proven — and there is no certainty that they will — the businessman’s friendship with the Taoiseach, which goes back to their schooldays in Drumcondra, is also likely to be placed under severe strain.
Mr Ahern was said by associates yesterday to be "disturbed" by the allegations.
The collapse of Mr Burke’s building contracting company, which went into liquidation last year with debts of up to €2m, has put further pressure on the businessman, according to friends.
He was also expected to give evidence later this week on how he arranged for a number of friends to give Mr Ahern a financial dig-out after the breakdown of his marriage.
Ironically, the house where the incident is alleged to have taken place on New Year’s Eve — the same house where the first allegations were made against him — is also owned by one of the Taoiseach’s "dig-out pals", Mr Barry English.
Mr English and his public relations executive wife, Catherine Logan, are said to be seriously embarrassed, especially among their neighbours at the plush Malahide housing development, where residents include Westlife’s Nicky Byrne and his wife, Georgina, the daughter of the Taoiseach.
"Joe is a different man, a different personality," said an associate. "If he was not on the board of Dublin Port, he would have nothing."
Mr Burke is now under pressure to resign from the high-profile position as chairman of Dublin Port Company to which he was re-appointed after his first term expired just before the election.
More details have emerged about Mr Burke’s encounter with two girls in their early 20s on New Year’s Eve that ended in the latest allegation of sexual assault.
According to sources, one of the girls got to know Mr Burke in recent months on the pub scene in Dublin city.
On the night in question, the girls telephoned Mr Burke on his mobile to ask if he could get them into the city centre nightclub, Lillie’s Bordello. Mr Burke obliged and, afterwards, invited them back to the Malahide mansion.
One of the girls went to bed while the other stayed up with Mr Burke. She subsequently accused him of a serious sexual assault. She woke her friend and dialled the emergency services at 5.30am. Mr Burke also called Malahide gardai, claiming he was fearful an allegation was being made against him.
Gardai in forensic gear combed the mansion for evidence and refused to allow Mr Burke back in.
The girls gave detailed statements to detectives on New Year’s Day. Mr Burke also spoke to Malahide gardai informally that day, after dropping his girlfriend, Ms Corrigan, to the airport. He told detectives the girls’ claims were simply not true.
On January 2, he was found by gardai, slumped behind the wheel of his Mercedes in Ringsend. He was brought to hospital. Since his release, he has been in a private hospital near his girlfriend’s home in Leopardstown.