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Sunday 22 October 2017

'I think Bertie would make a fine President if he decided to run' - Ploughing Championships founder Anna May McHugh

Anna May McHugh on why she still likes Bertie Ahern

Bertie Ahern.
Bertie Ahern.

Bertie Ahern was a frequent visitor to the Ploughing when he was Taoiseach and in an extract from her new book, Anna May McHugh says he was always a popular visitor.

Even though he was a proud Dub, he was always a very popular visitor to the Ploughing. People just loved him. Like Mary McAleese, he had the common touch.

The 2006 Ploughing in Tullow is probably not such a happy memory for Bertie. That was when he was being asked questions about payments and 'dig­outs'.

He had just done a big interview with Bryan Dobson, explaining the payments he got from friends after his marriage separation, on RTÉ's Six One News on Tuesday, 26 September. He lay low after the interview but was due to arrive at the Ploughing on that Friday, so the journalists were dying to get a hold of him.

I remember them waiting for his helicopter to land and they were all ready to pounce on him. To be honest, I felt a bit sorry for him, arriving into that rumpus.

We were also hosting the World Ploughing Contest that year and we had arranged for him to meet the overseas competitors. Obviously that would have been a big thing for a ploughing competitor, to meet the prime minister of the country where they were competing.

But there was a strong feeling from the media that he was avoiding the reporters and there was a lot of speculation about his visit. Would he even turn up? We had very little contact with his office in the days before his visit, but I never had any doubt. I knew he wouldn't let us down.

So he got out of the helicopter and into the jeep with me. Then his team said Bertie would not be going down to the ploughing plots because there was too much controversy going on and it would cause a lot of hassle trying to marshal him around the site with the media on his tail.

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They said he would just come into the NPA tent, show his face and go. I was sitting in the back of the jeep with Bertie and he turned to me and said: "Where are we going, Anna May?" I said: "We're going to the ploughing, Taoiseach." And that's what happened. That was Bertie. He wouldn't be dictated to by his public relations people. He was the boss.

I remember another occasion when his handlers literally had him running around the ploughing site. We went into a quiet corner of a stand and he turned around and said to his handlers: "Now, you listen to me. I am walking around. I am not running. I am not afraid of the people of Ireland and I am meeting them."

And that's exactly what he did. Anna Marie has walked many Taoisigh around the Ploughing and she says she never once heard a bad word directed against Bertie. I liked him then and I like him still. He has plenty of charm.

He's wearing his age extremely well. I think he would make a fine President if he decided to run. We were having this discussion recently and someone said he couldn't run because he had dirtied his bib. "And couldn't we wash it?" I said jokingly.

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