Friday 9 December 2016

Lise Hand: A bewildering spin on the merry-go-round that is Planet Bertie

Published 17/07/2015 | 02:30

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern

'If hindsight was foresight, you know, I'd be a billionaire, and so would you," philosophised the witness, with an all-too familiar blend of matiness and puppy dog-like bewilderment over the state of chassis which fell without warning from the sky onto Ireland and which banjaxed the banks.

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'If hindsight was foresight, you know, I'd be a billionaire, and so would you," philosophised the witness, with an all-too familiar blend of matiness and puppy dog-like bewilderment over the state of chassis which fell without warning from the sky onto Ireland and which banjaxed the banks.

We'd all forgotten what it was like to be an inhabitant of Planet Bertie. After all, lots and lots has happened since his dewy-eyed sayonara from the steps of Government Buildings in April 2008, just weeks before his beloved creation the Celtic Tiger was shot, stuffed and hung over the door of the Bundestag in Berlin.

We (both as journalists and citizens) had forgotten about Bertiespeak - the Baroque mangling of the language, the unfinished sentences and frequent appearance of malapropisms which nobody has ever figured out whether they were genuinely spontaneous or deployed with deliberation.

Memories had faded on the expertly-delivered waffle, the mental agility cloaked in chumminess, the public expressions of 'someone-should-do-something-about-that' regret when political stuff went awry. Back then we agreed, forgetting that Bertie was the very man who could do something about that, during his 11 years of running the country.

But it all came flooding back as he gave his views on how the boom went bust not too long after it had got boomier. As he took his oath to tell the Whole Trut, there was an air of expectancy in committee room 1. Surely, after a series of somewhat dreary, predictable witnesses, Bertie Ahern would do the business. After all, Bertie was box-office right to the bitter end and beyond, all the way into a kitchen cupboard.

However, it looked like another damp squib at the outset, as Bertie read aloud reams of technical statistics and figures in his opening statement with a fluency which he was always well able to manage whenever it suited him.

There was the obligatory donning of sackcloth towards the end of his statement: "Of course, I apologise for my mistakes, but I am also pleased that I did get a lot of things right," he declared, adding with sincere emphasis, "I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say I did try my very best to do the right thing by the Irish people".

Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty wasn't moved one jot, as his first question to the penitent revealed. "Maybe you'll start by explaining why parts of your opening statement to the Banking Inquiry are taken directly, word for word, from your autobiography?" he inquired.

Bertie didn't turn a hair. "Because that was my position when I did my autobiography and I haven't changed the position. I'm consistent," he replied brightly.

That was more like it. And during the questioning which followed, the star turn didn't disappoint. People hadn't told him important stuff about bubbles and the banks going balubas lending money. There seemed no point in being frugal in the boomiest of times. If only - in hindsight - Bertie had known what was coming.

"I probably would have battened down the hatches in 1997 and said no to everything, so therefore we would have had such a big surplus we would have been like Germany, we would have been able to take the whole hit. But I'm afraid I wasn't blessed with that view any time while I was in office," he said mournfully.

Then there was that whole unfortunate business with the Mahon Tribunal. "It didn't affect my job because I didn't give much time to it, to be honest with you," he shrugged.

But then he stepped down because the horrible media wouldn't leave him alone when he was trying to warn us all about the broke banks. " If I went out to say that there was a serious issue on liquidity and that we need to be careful where we're going economically, the first question I was asked was not about the liquidity," he explained.

But Bertie did get a bit prickly around the subject of his other creation, the Galway Tent. The wry smile melted like summer snow when it was raised by Pearse and Marc MacSharry and Susan O'Keeffe.

First he played it down. "It wasn't a big deal," he shrugged, echoing Brian Cowen's words. "Were Fianna Fáil wrong to abandon it?" asked Marc. "Yes," snapped Bertie.

Then he skitted about it. "What were people paying for in that case, coming to the Galway tent if it wasn't for some access to ministers, to the Taoiseach? What were they paying for?" asked Susan.

Bertie grinned. "Well, it usually rained in Galway race week so at least you had a tent to stay dry. You got a bit of food and a bit of fun, and you know, some people met their wives to be and things like that in it".

He was having fun. The Teflon coat had come out of mothballs and was working just grand.

Nor was he putting up with being the universal whipping-boy for the bubble. Sure what about the banks lavishing millions on commercial property development. Nothing to do with him, boss.

"It was doled out like confetti, like snuff at a wake. I'm out today taking a hit for the areas that would've been my responsibility but I'm damned if I'm taking responsibility for something that wasn't," he declared self-righteously.

Never mind who was in charge when light-touch regulation was promoted.

"What was going through your head as you left? Were you satisfied that the place was in good order? Were you ashamed," wondered Susan.

Bertie was puzzled. "I certainly wasn't ashamed. I believed that the place was in good order".

Then we all remembered the incredible view from Planet Bertie.

Quotes of the day

“I did make mistakes, I admit that – but so does everyone who governs.”

“Of course, I apologise for my mistakes, but I am also pleased that I did get a lot of things right.”

“I can honestly put my hand on my heart and say I did try my very best to do the right thing by the Irish people.” “If hindsight was foresight, I’d be a billionaire.”

“Was there appropriate regulation (of the banks)? Not at all. There was hardly any regulation as far as I can see.”

“The downturn did have a very hard impact on individuals and families, especially those who lost their jobs, and of course that saddened me and I wish the recession did not happen.”

“It is disingenuous to suggest that all the gains this country made have been wiped out.”

“There is zero credibility in suggesting that an open economy like ours could withstand a global recession and the collapse of the global investment banking system.”

“The last few years have been extremely tough on many ordinary families and that breaks my heart.”

“Frankly we didn’t have much competition in 2002 so I wasn’t worried about being re-elected.”

“I think I would have been able to put a bit of lean on them” (in reference to Trichet, Juncker and other EU heads.)

“It [the Mahon Tribunal] didn’t affect my job [as Taoiseach] because I didn’t give it much thought.”

“I would’ve stayed on – not like some former leaders until they were 80 – but I would’ve stayed on for another 18 months.”

“It usually rained in Galway, so at least you had a tent to keep dry ... you got a bit of food, it was a bit of fun ... some people met their future wives there.”

Irish Independent

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