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Wednesday 1 March 2017

'He is a genuine "old boy" from north Dublin, with a distinct accent, in English and in Irish, to match'

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

GIVEN the dire straits the Irish economy and banking system would fall into soon after Bertie Ahern's resignation as Taoiseach, assessments by American diplomats of his legacy were remarkably positive.

Leaving aside deserved praise for Mr Ahern's successes in the Northern peace process, US diplomatic views of his economic policies look decidedly rose-tinted in hindsight.

In fact, the Ireland Cables contain surprisingly little criticism of the role of Ahern-led governments in championing light-touch financial sector regulation and dangerously fuelling the construction boom.

Most of the analysis which followed Mr Ahern's departure in May 2008 was focused on the failure of his successor Brian Cowen to get to grips with the unfolding crisis.

The closest thing to criticism of Mr Ahern came in a cable the same month, in which then US Ambassador Thomas Foley described him as "a sociable loner".

In a separate dispatch from 2008, Mr Foley told the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Mr Ahern would leave behind "a formidable legacy".

This was one of a succession of embassy cables from Dublin to Washington which painted Mr Ahern's time in office in a positive light.

Ambassador Foley hailed Mr Ahern as presiding over "the Celtic Tiger's dynamic" and described him as one of the main architects of peace in the North.

Mr Ahern's policies were described as "pro-business and pro-American".

According to his assessment, the Ahern-led government's founding of the Celtic Tiger transformation had been down to "low corporation tax rates, industrial peace, pro-investment policies, fiscal responsibility, and effective use of EU support grants".

The only concern on the horizon at the time of Mr Ahern's resignation was that "US economic difficulties would reverberate negatively in Ireland," the ambassador said.

He said Mr Ahern's close relationship with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair meant Ireland was no longer afraid to be seen as working in concert with the UK.

"It is a mature, normal bilateral relationship, unimaginable even a decade ago," he wrote.

The ambassador added that, apart from Ireland's misgivings over the war in Iraq, Mr Ahern had developed policies "that frequently dovetail with US interests".

Irish-US relations had become much "broader and deeper", he said. Mr Ahern's "steadfast support" of the US military use of Shannon, in the face of protests, was also praised.

On the former Taoiseach's performance in Europe, Ambassador Foley said Mr Ahern "came of age" during Ireland's EU presidency in 2004.

Constitution

He praised Mr Ahern for bringing to conclusion the EU debate over its draft constitution -- even though it would subsequently be rejected in Dutch and French referenda.

The ambassador said that during Mr Ahern's leadership Ireland had become a nation which "punches above its weight" in international affairs, wielding influence in EU and UN corridors.

Mr Foley's predecessor as ambassador, James Kenny, also briefed Washington positively about Mr Ahern, particularly his role in Europe.

In a May 2004 cable he described Mr Ahern as being "a savvy political operator" and "an ideal candidate" for the Presidency of the European Commission, as he had "a wealth of EU knowledge" and demonstrated his credentials during Ireland's EU presidency.

However, he said Mr Ahern was unlikely to take such a role as he was "very much a domestic political animal".

"Although a committed European, he has never immersed himself in EU politics prior to the (Irish) Presidency," wrote Kenny. Nor does he speak French. He is a genuine 'old boy' from north Dublin, with a distinct accent, in English and in Irish, to match."

Irish Independent

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