independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Bertie meets the movers and sheikhers on trip to Dubai

Former Taoiseach's visit to royalty organised by Drumcondra friends

HIS star may have waned in Dublin – but Bertie Ahern is the toast of Dubai. The former Taoiseach has made the cover of the latest edition of an international glossy magazine for millionaires that is published under Saudi royal supervision.

The interview inside came about after Mr Ahern and his old pal Des Richardson dined with His Highness Sheikh Hasher Al Maktoum, a member of Dubai's ruling royal family, last April.

Mr Ahern's entree to Dubai's royalty had been arranged by another old friend from his Drumcondra days, businessman David McKenna, who is now an adviser to Sheikh Al Maktoum.

The lunch went so well that an interview was set up with Millennium Millionaire's Magazine, a quarterly glossy that unashamedly targets the super-rich and boasts a readership of royalty, government ministers, executives and "members of yacht clubs".

The latest edition features a flattering profile of Mr Ahern, noting his "wise thoughts", "amazing" personality and many achievements.

And there is not a word about his stewardship of the property bubble over three terms in government or his tribunal woes.

It is all a far cry from Mr Ahern's recent encounter with an angry punter who assaulted him with a crutch in a Dublin pub.

The lunch also demonstrates how the former Taoiseach's northside network, the so-called 'Drumcondra Mafia', has spread its wings since he retired from politics.

Mr McKenna was one of eight friends who helped bail out Mr Ahern back in the 1990s. Since his business failed, he moved abroad and is now understood to be a close associate and adviser to His Highness Sheikh Al Maktoum.

The Al Maktoums have established links with Ireland, mostly through horse racing.

Mr Richardson, another close associate, has travelled widely with Mr Ahern since he resigned as Taoiseach, most frequently to China.

A close friend of Mr Ahern, he was treasurer of Fianna Fail and the organiser of the infamous 'dig-out' for Mr Ahern in 1993. The Mahon tribunal, which investigated the payments, did not believe Mr Ahern's account of how money had ended up in his bank accounts when he was finance minister.

But Millennium Millionaires Magazine was not concerned with that. Instead, it acknowledged his role in the Good Friday Agreement and chairing the European Union during its successful enlargement. It also offered some unexpected personal insights.

"His favourite colour is blue and bright colours as they bring happiness and cheer, especially in the dark days of winter. He loves sport and believes a healthy lifestyle is about exercise, proper food, good diet and sufficient sleep, which he tries to have with varying degrees of success."

His favourite musicians are Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees and Leonard Cohen and his favourite song is Whiter Shade Of Pale by Procul Harem, because it reminds him of now deceased friends from his school days. He had a cat called Ben for many years and loves gardening in good weather.

The magazine is published "under the auspices" of another branch of the United Arab Emirates ruling royal family, His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Hamdan Al Nahyan, who owns the largest collection of cars as well as the biggest truck in the world.

Dubai is one of many stops on the former Taoiseach's global odyssey since he left high office in 2008 in the shadow of the Mahon tribunal's revelations about his personal finances.

Although Mr Ahern still lives in Beresford, a small housing estate in Drumcondra, he travels the world as a "statesman".

Later this month, he will be one of several former heads of state speaking at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy's annual conference in Berlin.

He also signed up to the Inter Action Council, an international think tank of "former heads of state or government".

Mr Ahern is chairman of the International Forestry Fund and was on the books of the Washington Speaker's Bureau, which reportedly earned him fees of more than €400,000 in 2009.

He is also a frequent visitor to China, where he was invited to join the International Economic Club of China's advisory council.

Mr Ahern receives a State pension of around €135,000 a year.

Sunday Independent

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