Friday 21 July 2017

The snub that led to Bertie's scathing words about Martin

Bertie Ahern and Micheal Martin
Bertie Ahern and Micheal Martin

John Downing Political Correspondent

Bertie Ahern's stinging attack on Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin was in response to a perceived snub which dates back all of eight months.

The three-times Taoiseach, and FF leader from 1994 to 2008, was deeply offended by a comprehensive speech by Mr Martin on Northern Ireland in August of last year. Addressing the Merriman Summer School, he praised the work for peace carried out by Albert Reynolds, John Major, John Hume, and Seamus Mallon, and he even managed a plaudit for his predecessor Brian Cowen.

But there was no mention of Mr Ahern, who had worked tirelessly on the issue from before he was first elected Taoiseach in June 1997 until he was forced to quit in May 2008.

"Bertie was very offended as he believes, with some justification, whatever faults are ever laid at his door, nobody can take the Northern peace process away from him," one source told the Irish Independent last night.

Earlier this week, at a FF party meeting in his old Drumcondra stronghold, Mr Ahern said he did not think much of Micheal Martin and would not say anything nice about him as he also commented that the party was faring badly.

Mr Martin later said he could not understand these criticisms and he brushed them aside saying he was working on current and future issues for the party and the country.

Ironically, Mr Martin's wide-ranging and well-argued speech delivered in Kilfenora, Co Clare, last August, borrowed from the theme of 'two narratives' in recounting the North's history. Some observers felt Mr Martin could in fact have been referring to the FF story and its efforts to rebuild and deal with its past.

Well-placed political sources say that Mr Martin later said that the failure to name-check his predecessor was "accidental and inadvertent".

"But it was too late – the damage had been done," another source remarked.

The link between the pair goes back to just after Mr Ahern was newly elected as FF leader in November 1994 and Mr Martin was included in the Ahern team from the start as education spokesman. In government, Mr Martin went on to serve by turns as Education, Health, Enterprise and Foreign Affairs Minister from June 1997 until January 2011.

"Bertie gave Micheal his first break and they got on reasonably well. But they were never close," one FF person said.

From the late 1990s onwards, Mr Martin was being talked about as the potential successor to Mr Ahern. Around the years 2003/2004, as Mr Martin appeared mired in a range of problems in the Department of Health, he was sneeringly referred to as the 'former future leader'.

But it fell to Mr Martin and other key lieutenants to tell Mr Ahern in spring 2008 that he must step down as party leader and Taoiseach amid a welter of tribunal controversy regarding his personal finances.

In March 2012, Mr Martin was FF leader when Mr Ahern resigned entirely from the party in the wake of the Mahon Tribunal findings.

Others in FF last night dismissed Mr Ahern's sense of grievance at not getting a plaudit last August from Mr Martin. They argued that Mr Ahern should long ago have begun a policy of dignified silence, emulating other former Taoisigh.

"Even when Brian Cowen took over from Bertie, he could not stay quiet.

"He was to be heard sniping at him on several occasions. Apart from anything else, it was deeply unfair," one FF stalwart said.

Irish Independent

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