Saturday 1 October 2016

Fianna Fáil in panic as defiant Bertie defends boom

Ireland better off even after bust, ex-Taoiseach to claim

Daniel McConnell Group Political Correspondent

Published 12/07/2015 | 02:30

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country's history
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country's history

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will this week defiantly claim the Irish people are better off because of his Celtic Tiger policies, even after the worst economic crash in the country's history.

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Mr Ahern is expected to make the controversial claim in evidence when he appears before the Oireachtas Banking Inquiry next Thursday, the Sunday Independent understands.

Senior Fianna Fail sources have said the party is gripped with "alarm" and "deep nervousness" over Mr Ahern's testimony to the inquiry, fearing it could precipitate a backlash in the opinion polls.

"God knows what he will say, there is certainly a fear he could wipe three or four points off our poll rating if it goes badly," one senior Fianna Fail party figure said.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, former minister and aunt of the late Brian Lenihan, Mary O'Rourke, said she is "alarmed" at the potential fallout of Mr Ahern's sworn evidence at the inquiry.

She said: "If he could replicate Brian Cowen, he'd do well. I am a bit afraid of what Bertie Ahern might say."

His appearance comes as the Sunday Independent has learned that economist and Central Bank director Alan Gray, who was contacted by Mr Cowen on the night of the bank guarantee, is to be called to give evidence, given his central role in events.

Inquiry members have conceded that they had not realised the significance of Mr Gray's involvement but now consider him to be a key witness.

Following the evidence of his successor Brian Cowen to the inquiry, it is expected that Mr Ahern will tell members that the crash saddened him and that he regrets what happened.

It is expected he will say the crash left him devastated, but it is understood that Mr Ahern will strongly argue that even with the crash, the policies he and his governments pursued have left Ireland a better country and its people better off.

He is likely to state that it would be wrong to say that all of the Celtic Tiger gains were eviscerated by the crash.

Mr Ahern is expected to say that while he did not get everything right during his time in office, he feels he sincerely tried his best to do the right thing by the Irish people.

While Mr Ahern - who was forced to resign from Fianna Fail in 2012 in the wake of the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report - is also expected to express some regret for the crash, he is expected to express his happiness at getting a lot of things right during his tenure.

Mr Ahern is expected to claim in his evidence that his policies and those of his government during the Celtic Tiger years changed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

The Sunday Independent understands that Mr Ahern will also attempt to spread the blame for the crash onto State and international agencies for failing to diagnose the crash.

He is expected to specifically criticise the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the IMF, it is believed. In spreading the blame, Mr Ahern is expected to point to the economic analysis of a host of international economic agencies, including the IMF, EC and the OECD, as setting the stage for the country's economic outlook.

It is not the first time Mr Ahern has sought to spread the blame for not spotting the crisis in the Irish banks.

On the day he left the Dail for the last time, Mr Ahern said: "If I have any regrets, it is that I would have loved if somebody somewhere would have told me what was going on in the banks in this country, but no one ever did, we get wise after the event."

Mr Ahern is also expected to staunchly defend the role and influence of social partnership, saying it helped to broaden the influence beyond the reach of a small group of elites.

He is expected to argue that it is important that access to government is granted to a broad group - rather than a small elite, and that is what social partnership allowed.

But, Mr Ahern's appearance has raised fears within FF as to the impact of what he might say on the party so close to the general election.

People have pointed to recent utterances where he was critical of former colleagues and fear he could use the inquiry to put pressure on party leader Micheal Martin, whom he has been publicly critical of.

His pointed criticism of the late Brian Lenihan in a TV programme on his legacy raised eyebrows.

"He was unnecessarily sharp, but I would think that. Another part of me would think that is just Bertie," Ms O'Rourke said yesterday.

Mr Ahern also recently made a point at a recent O'Donovan Rossa commemoration at Glasnvein, that he was "no longer a member of Fianna Fail".

Leading members of Fianna Fail have expressed their happiness at how well the Brian Cowen hearings went and said that government attempts to use the inquiry to damage Fianna Fail have backfired.

Fianna Fail TD and Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness said: "If it was meant to be a stitch up of Fianna Fail it hasn't worked.

"It has failed to materialise to the extent the government parties had hoped it would."

Sunday Independent

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