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Thursday 2 October 2014

How to upset the apple tart and survive

Senan Molony Deputy Political Editor

Published 24/04/2008 | 00:00

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SO it's farewell from Bertie to the Dail -- the chamber in which he deployed his sheer political skill as Taoiseach for more than a decade.

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Mr Ahern was famously perplexing to journalists as he often failed to complete sentences. But the way he constructed his language was part of his success and astonishing record.

It helped him become the 'Teflon Taoiseach,' to whom nothing stuck -- certainly not in the limited inquisitorial forum provided by Leaders' Questions or the Order of Business.

Former independent Deputy Joe Higgins memorably complained that asking Mr Ahern a question was "like playing handball against a haystack".

And despite some classic Bertie-isms over the years, it has to be said that his verbal blunders were actually few. Mr Ahern almost never lost concentration, even as he was throwing out a fog of language to bamboozle those attempting to hold him to account.

There was a minor slip this week, but not in the same league as "upsetting the apple tart" or the memorable reference to American statesman and Middle East envoy Cyrus Vance as "Cyprus Vance" -- possibly influenced by familiarity with the name of constituency colleague Cyprian Brady.

On Tuesday, Mr Ahern made passing reference to a world food shortage as having contribution to Irish inflation, saying it had 'exasperated' the situation, when he meant exacerbated.

Last year his mind wandered slightly when answering questions on law and order, when he declared passionately: "I never condemn wrongdoing in any area."

Then there was the classic last year, in the midst of Mr Ahern muddying the water about his finances, when he listed out to the Dail countries where he was falsely alleged to have bank accounts -- including in Liechtenstein, Jersey and the Dutch Antilles. Except Bertie called them the "Dutch Anthills" -- a neat way of suggestion people were making a mountain out of a molehill.

Mr Ahern also repeatedly referred to Temple Bar as "Dublin's West Bank" when he meant 'left bank' after the artistic quarter on the Seine, and on another occasion referred to the "roadcrash" for peace in the Middle East. But the famous gaffes were few and far between, given how often Mr Ahern rose to his feet in the Dail.

More infrequent still were his flashes of anger. But when he lit on deputies, they all but combusted under his wrath.

Mr Ahern usually indulged the aforementioned Joe Higgins, enjoying his witty one-liners with the best of them, but the Dail's only other socialist was once subjected to a lengthy harangue in which Mr Ahern listed his alleged deficiencies and finished up by branding him a "failed person".

His dismissal of Gay Mitchell has become the stuff of Dail legend -- even though it happened as long ago as 1994. "If you stop waffling we might get some work done," he told him. "You're a waffler. You've been years around here, waffling."

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