An Ordinary Joe
I think it’s the fact that Bertie Ahern told George Hook in a radio interview that he wants to be addressed as “Iar-Taoiseach”, meaning “Former Taoiseach” that has finally driven me over the edge regarding this infuriating man.
Ahern pointed out that former Presidents of the United States always retain their honorific title, being known as President Clinton or President Carter.
“During the summer I was down with the gaeilgoirs in Kerry and they couldn’t understand, if for all your career you have the word Taoiseach, why do you change when you are the former Taoiseach. So they said that I should use the word Iar-Taoiseach, which means former Taoiseach, so that’s what I’m doing.”
None of the previous ten ex-Taoisigh, including even the power-obsessed Haughey, tried to pull this stunt. But perhaps none of them were made to feel as special as he has since he resigned as Taoiseach.
He’s had a nice new office near Leinster House renovated for him at a cost of €220,000 (while the average cost of a house in Ireland is €272,946), although he has so many speeches and lectures planned that it’s not clear now often he’ll use it. He is to be one of the guest speakers at Hectors’Long Christmas Lunches in the Mansion House, and tickets for his lunch are one-third dearer than for those of Jason Byrne or Risteard Cooper. RTE had him as a guest presenter on ‘The Road to Croker’. The Irish Times got him to write a “what I did on my summer holidays” essay. He’s going to write a book.
Everyone seems to have forgotten that this man was forced out of office after his evidence to the Mahon Tribunal became just too laughable for even the most faithful to believe. After his former secretary (sorry, iar-secretary) Gráinne Carruth was reduced to tears in the witness box as she tried to back his story in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary. After he explained hitherto unmentioned sterling amounts by referring to winnings on UK horse races. After he claimed to have had no bank accounts for a number of years, and then embraced the idea of a bank account so firmly that he was involved in 26 different accounts just six months later. After he claimed to keep wads of cash in his office safe, and then just to grab a fistful of it at random and hand it uncounted to whoever happened to be around to lodge it into whatever of his accounts they felt like. After he claimed to have got dig-outs from friends at a time when he had over fifty thousand in savings. After it transpired these dig-outs arose because his friend and solicitor, in an astonishing breach of client confidentiality, told his other mates that he was stuck for money to pay his legal bill to, yes, that solicitor. After he said that he made a speech after a dinner in Manchester, and was handed £8,000 without having asked for it (because if he’d asked for it, it would be a fee and therefore be taxable). After he said he was not the owner of the B/T account, yet the only major payment ever to go out of it was to his girlfriend to enable her to buy a house.
In short, after it became clear that, while in one of the best-paid and most influential jobs in the state, he accepted huge sums of money from anybody and everybody who was willing to give it to him.
Some people think this behaviour is irrelevant. They say “things were different then. It was a different culture.” Or they say “well, look at the job he did with the country”.
But things weren’t different then. Corruption was illegal and morally wrong in the 1980s, just as it is now. And if things were different then, why are Revenue still pursuing people over money that they hid away during those days? And as for the “look at the job he did” argument, this is the kind of ‘High Chieftain’ argument that was also used in Haughey’s case. It’s effectively saying that they’re better than we are, so they should be entitled to different treatment.
And besides, look at the job he did do with the country. He did a wonderful job on the North, and it was agreed by all of the rest of Europe’s leaders that he was fantastic when Ireland held the EU Presidency, getting agreement between the states on issues that everyone had thought unsolvable. His commitment to work is beyond question also, as shown by his return to the Good Friday talks directly from his mother’s funeral.
But look at the country now. He was leader while McCreevy and Cowen fuelled a property boom that filled the pockets of the Galway Races brigade, but left the middle classses struggling with giant mortgages, and now facing an unsure future thanks to the fact that it has all blown up. He managed a period of stability simply by throwing money at everything, backing down every time anything was threatened that might make him unpopular. The public service has swelled in numbers. He allowed McCreevy to come up with the ridiculous decentralisation idea, and stuck blindly with it even after it became clear that it’s just not going to work. And somehow our schools and hospitals are as badly funded as they were when we were poor.
Checking on Ray Burke
Worst of all, though, he has damaged democracy in this country by helping to fuel cynicism toward politics and politicians. He appointed Ray Burke and Liam Lawlor to senior posts when eveyone knew they were corrupt. He defended Beverly Flynn, and welcomed her back into Fianna Fáil, suggesting she might be a minister one day. He made Ivor Callely, who had to resign after getting his house painted free, a Senator after the electorate rejected him in the General Election. He appointed three additional Junior Ministers on salaries of €150,000 each, just so he could keep more of his party happy. He defended and finally just deferred (not scrapped) his €38,000 pay increase, which would have made his salary higher than George Bush.
He lauded Charles Haughey, saying at his funeral: ‘He was a consummate politician… The definition of a patriot is someone who devotes all their energy to the betterment of their countrymen. Charles Haughey was a patriot to his finger tips.’ He helped ensure the defeat of Lisbon with his reference to opponents as ‘Loo-lahs’. He scathingly attacked anyone who questioned the safety of the proposed electronic voting system, calling them ‘luddites’ and saying he was ‘ashamed’ after he watched the French election that we were still using the ‘peann luaidhe’, and even after experts that he appointed said the system wasn’t safe he still attacked the opposition.
He made Conor ‘Kebabs’ Lenihan Minister for Immigration. He admitted that he did appoint people who gave him money to State Boards, but said “I appointed them because they were friends, not because of anything they had given me”. He said his biggest regret on leaving office – in a country who’s economy is falling apart, where gang-realted killings are now an everyday occurence, and where women have died because they’d been misdiagnosed as cancer-free – is that he never got to build the Bertiebowl, blaming “small-minded people” for opposing the project.
That last bit is one of the things I remember most about him – his sneering spitefulness whenever he felt he was being attacked, and his quickness to hide behind his position. To insult him was to insult the office of Taoiseach, he’d be quick to tell you.
This self-proclaimed man-of-the-people, who had the gall to call himself a socialist, now sees himself as some sort of super-statesman, deserving of a title all of his own and the undying respect and devotion of the Irish people.
Stick it in your iar, Bertie.