There is little that unites the divided people of this beleaguered land like outrage over Bertie Ahern's pension. As Taoiseach, Ahern was an ardent champion of social partnership, bringing together disparate sectors in common cause. As ex-Taoiseach, he continues to serve as an agent for consensus: almost everyone agrees that his annual state handout of €150,000 is unjustly large and largely undeserved.
The public fury is perfectly justified. While the citizenry continues to stumble through the economic wreckage, most of the Fianna Fáil ministers who did so much to create optimal conditions for the crash have long since retired on fat pensions. The haste of their exit prompted some commentators to liken them to rats deserting a sinking ship.
But this comparison is a slur on the seafaring rodents. Rats do not cause ships to sink – nor do they expect to be rewarded with luxurious featherbedding by the impoverished owners of the stricken vessel they leave behind.
Last week, we learnt that none of the Fianna Fáil ministers who ran the economy aground have chosen to give up any part of their pensions. The retired grandees evidently see their hefty payouts as reasonable recompense for their sterling public service. They are clearly unperturbed by the fact that a bankrupt Exchequer must borrow the money required to fund their recession-proofed lifestyles. The pensions are their jackpots, their roll-over prizes and we – the designated losers in this rigged game – are contractually obliged to pay up, by any means necessary.
Ahern's attitude is the most cynical of all. Having advertised his willingness to return a chunk of his pension to the State, as an expression of solidarity with an austerity-ravaged populace, he subsequently reversed the decision, and has been pocketing the full whack since he left Leinster House.
Strange though it may sound, there is a sense in which Ahern's enormo-pension represents good value for the taxpayer. In a world where memories are short and distractions are many, the brazen conceit of this erstwhile man of the people stands as a conspicuous public monument to something many are in danger of forgetting: the peculiar ghastliness of Fianna Fáil.
The need for such a reminder is growing. As bitter disappointment with Enda Kenny's Government curdles to something even more sour, some of our fellow countryfolk are looking again at Fianna Fáil and thinking unforgivably forgiving thoughts. Recent polls have ranked the party's support at around 21pc, making it the leading force on the Dáil's opposition benches.
Micheál Martin, a linchpin in all of the governments that inflicted so much damage, is now the most popular party leader. Martin has skilfully rebranded himself as a political newcomer, a reforming radical who harbours nothing but contempt for the chicanery and cronyism of yesteryear. On the increasingly infrequent occasions when he is publicly reminded of his track record, he hides behind the fiction that the economic collapse was caused by circumstances entirely beyond Ireland's control.
Anyone foolhardy enough to believe that Fianna Fáil has seen the error of its ways should consider the unapologetic arrogance displayed over the pensions issue by Ahern, his successor Brian Cowen and the rest of the party's blundering crew. They may have taken us to the cleaners, but they shouldn't be allowed to conduct a mass brainwashing as well.