The Bring Back Bertie Brigade (BBBB) has been on maneuvers for some time. Bring Bertie Ahern back, the argument goes, give him a significant official role in cleaning up the chaos in the North. Well sure, OK – we could do that, see how it works.
Here is an argument for it – in a recent analysis in this newspaper, Eoin O’Malley made this argument convincingly.
On the other hand, there’s a harsh political truth about Ahern’s beloved Fianna Fáil, and it goes against the idea.
We’ll get to the negative in a bit, but the positive first.
The Bring Back Bertie Brigade believes that Micheál Martin Ahern should be given a position – perhaps as an ‘envoy’ – charged with improving relations between signatories to the Belfast Accords.
Ahern found friends on all sides of politics in the North, as well as in the Republic and in London.
He is liked and trusted because, as O’Malley puts it, “he never intentionally bothered to make enemies.”
TRUE. Ahern chose not to snub or respect even those he had good reason to dislike. He wasn’t nice, he minimized barriers to increase leverage.
An approach that has served him well as a negotiator, including in his role in the peace process.
Ahern left politics in 2007 in desperate, pitiful circumstances. On the stand before a tribunal, caught up in the facts, unable to do more than squirm.
It must have been hell to be at the center of it.
Part of the urge to find a role for him might be to make sure this isn’t the last sight of Ahern’s story – squirming.
Today the UK’s clownish Johnson regime has left the North in chaos. Ahern is widely loved and trusted, and the BBBB insists he could help clean up the mess.
That may be true, maybe not.
This is true, however: Fianna Fáil has been a uniquely toxic presence in politics for decades. It wasn’t always like this, but sometime in the ’60s the party started to stink.
Part of it was financial corruption. Prominent personalities pocketed large chunks of money. Dreary, inadequate city councils were taking rezoning orders — and money — from developers. The country was shaped according to who owned which piece of land.
Party chairman Charlie Haughey had constantly sought donations. He stole party money and state money, he stole money that was donated for his friend’s liver transplant. He sold Irish passports to rich people from abroad.
From top to bottom the party was a stinker.
Mind you, Fine Gael was there too. Not that many of them, true. But, man, the Fine Gaelers knew how to attack.
It was, I suppose, a kind of tribute to their beloved market forces. There were fewer curved Fine Gaelers, so the price went up.
Of course, not every Fianna Fáiler was bowed, it was a minority. But it was so obvious – partisans couldn’t know unless they were extremely fat.
Haughey flaunted it: his mansion, his high-maintenance mistress, his yacht, his island. He bragged about how much it took to fly the materials to his island to build his second mansion.
Fine Gael wasn’t at the races.
If you’re assigned to cover for Haughey on the Choice Trail, you have a good chance of catching him cheating on his mistress.
Let Garret FitzGerald take care of you, there’s nothing quite like seeing him bent over the phone at the hotel reception, making long evening calls to his wife in Dublin.
Fianna Fáil strutted, brimming with arrogance.
Occasionally Fine Gael was able to garner enough seats and allies to form a government, but Fianna Fáil used this as an opportunity to rest and prepare for the next reign.
There were regular feuds with Fine Gaelers or Labour, but the struggles the party took most seriously were the internal animosities between would-be TDs and would-be leaders.
These were vicious, ruthless, bloody.
The rumor machine was revved up in an attempt to undermine Ahern’s steady rise toward the lead. Carefully fabricated lies fester.
Ahern’s marriage had just broken up, he was in a relationship, and it was an opportunity to play with the prejudices of the electorate. And back then, the electorate—particularly the Fianna Fáil element—was far less tolerant of unconventional arrangements than we are today.
And that was used.
I was going about my personal business when I was approached by someone who, without being asked, gave me a harsh account of Ahern’s private life.
It was quite a story. I asked a few questions, the answers were evasive.
I came to two conclusions: first, these were probably lies invented by Ahern’s Fianna Fáil enemies; and secondly, if everything was correct, it was none of my business, nor was it any newspaper’s business.
Many years later I have no doubt that the story was pure fiction.
It’s not that the liars expected the media to publish such stories. It was enough if questions were asked, if word got around that your husband was a bit doubtful, a risk for the party.
It was the old trick that the dirt doesn’t have to be true, but let’s force him to deny it.
I assume other journalists were fed the same crap, leading to hiccup stories of anti-Ahern innuendos. But the media didn’t do Fianna Fáil’s dirty work.
Journalists – we’re not as stupid as we look.
And there was a sequel.
When Ahern was pressured in the courts to explain how various deposits got into his account, the Fianna Fáil machine turned on. Here, they yelled, the media poked its nose into the poor guy’s broken marriage. Tut-tut, the media is digging around looking for dirt among the shattered pieces of our beloved leader’s broken heart.
Ahern knew this was bullshit, he knew there were legitimate questions that couldn’t be avoided, but he remained silent as his goon boys insulted the media and voters who wanted to know where the money was coming from.
The party machine that badmouthed Ahern when others controlled him now came to his defense when he was leader, throwing brazen lies at his perceived enemies.
It didn’t bother any journalists I know. But it was an example of how the party worked.
Completely without scruples, without the slightest concern for truth or reality, misfits were either crooks or the enemy.
You flattered people, stole their votes, peed on their faces, and told them it was raining.
You did everything you thought necessary to neutralize enemies.
Al Capone style politics.
Arrogance and unprecedented incompetence brought the country to its knees in 2008, and the country eventually turned against Fianna Fáil.
If the BBBB project is successful, it can only give a boost to the Bring Back Fianna Fáil project.
The party is unlikely to ever regain its old dominance, but it would be wrong to underestimate this old poisonous spirit.
The North is a mess, sure, but the answer is not to reach for old Drumcondra eff-effer like a scared baby. He’s not a comfort blanket.
Making Fianna Fáil a follower is one of the achievements of the younger generation. Let’s not respect that.
Mind you, it would be nice to be able to ask Bertie if he remembers anything about those old pound and dollar deposits.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/a-bertie-ahern-comfort-blanket-cannot-cover-sins-of-the-past-41910103.html A security blanket from Bertie Ahern cannot cover up the sins of the past