|Former Irish Prime Minister|
All of this would have seemed almost unthinkable a few years ago. Then Bertie Ahern was feted as a political genius. He was the pragmatic deal-maker who helped bring peace to Ireland. He was the efficient manager orchestrating Ireland's economic surge. He was the longest-serving Taoiseach since Éamon de Valera was running the country in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
There were no airs about Ahern. He was comfortable in his skin and the people were comfortable with him. He loved his sports, loved being seen out supporting his teams, here and like so many Irish soccer fans, in England watching Manchester United. He drank in his local pub and was a proud Dub (person from Dublin). He had an everyman's Dublin manner of speaking. Yet he was admired across the island: north, south, east and west.
There were frailties too. Before he became Taoiseach he opened up on a TV program about the problems in his marriage. He was separated from his wife. Yet from what we could see his relationship with his two daughters was about as good as any separated father could want.
When his girlfriend began accompanying him on foreign trips it was hardly even a talking point. He was a true representative of the new Ireland, the one shorn of the rigid social strictures of the past, but confident in business and management.
Bertie – he was always Bertie to the people – was loved. Sure there were detractors, but as far as any high-ranking politician can be loved, Ahern was. Even people who didn't vote for his Fianna Fáil party liked him personally.
His smiling face more than any other was the human face of the Celtic Tiger. He was a success. We were a success.
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Unfortunately for Ahern he more than anyone else in Irish politics is held responsible for the terrible turn of fortune over the past four years.
Today Ireland is a failure; it's hard-won sovereignty lost when the EU and IMF came in to oversee our elected leaders' work. Irish people are leaving in droves and those who remain are seeing massive cutbacks in public services along with punishing tax increases. Ahern's smiling face now looks to the Irish people like he's smirking, like he got away with something and we're paying for it.
None of this was in the Mahon Report, but it's the underlying context for the animosity now being directed at Ahern. I doubt anyone would be paying too much attention to the allegations against Ahern if the economy was still flying high.
The Tribunal found that Ahern had been untruthful in his testimony, was evasive about the source of payments he received. He was completely bizarre and unbelievable when he said he had no bank account.
I have no time for corruption in politics so my sympathy for Ahern is near nil. The only thing that bothers me is that unlike Ireland's other corrupt leading politicians, Ahern doesn't seem to have any of the trappings of a wealthy life. No island, no yacht, no 3 houses, no "insatiable appetite for money." The tribunal said Ahern got £165,000 (approx $275,000), which in the early to mid 90s was not a bad sum. What then did Ahern do with that money?
I guess it doesn't really matter now. His 'good name' is in tatters. Everyone is jumping on the anti-Bertie bandwagon, including many of those in his party who owe their political positions to him. Those people I hold beneath contempt because they're now pleading that they 'had no idea' when everyone in Ireland knew the Fianna Fáil way of doing things consisted of a nod and wink to the rules, the law. They should all get out of politics and see if a younger, untainted Fianna Fáil can revive the party.
You know what else is bothering me? We all knew. We didn't know the specifics, but we all knew that Fianna Fáil had this element to it – the shady operations, the 'look-the-other-way' method of enforcing the law when it came to their pals. We went along with it because despite (or maybe because of) that slick used-car-salesman approach we thought they were the best at "getting things done."
Now, thanks to the fact that what they got done was our undoing we want not so much justice as vengeance. We must have our pound of flesh and Bertie's flesh looks more tempting than all others right now.