Saturday 22 October 2016

John Drennan: Bertie-bashing glosses over voters' role in Ahern myth

In a stark reversal of fortune, the former Taoiseach is a scapegoat to be shunned by his tribe, writes John Drennan

Published 17/11/2013 | 01:00

NARCISSUS: Bertie Ahern believed in his own perfection
NARCISSUS: Bertie Ahern believed in his own perfection

You would wonder sometimes, how Bertie thought this retirement thing would work.

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The then Taoiseach was certainly dragged towards it with a reluctance that suggested he wasn't at all enthused by the prospect.

Mr Ahern might have hoped for the modest dignity of a ghost-written column in the Irish Times and the occasional honorary degree as distinct from being attacked by men with crutches in pubs.

It was perhaps inevitable that the contribution of Justice Minister Alan Shatter marked the nadir of the Bertie Ahern affair.

The suggestion that Bertie should pay for his own personal security was unpleasant, even by Shatter standards.

The peculiar logic might have been appropriate were Mr Ahern some third-world dictator who had skipped the country with a hundred million in Swiss bonds in his back pocket.

But even on a retired Irish politician's salary, Mr Ahern is hardly in a position to hire security.

Mr Shatter missed the seminal point that there is something terribly wrong with our country if Mr Ahern even has to make such a decision.

In a democracy, the appropriate court to judge our politicians is the ballot box rather than the streets or in a pub.

That, as Mr Shatter knows, is the politics of fascism, but apparently when it comes to Bertie Ahern, it's different.

No leader since Petain, the hero of the French resistance in the First World War, who was sentenced to death in post-Second World War France for collaborating with the Germans, has experienced such a reversal of fortune.

Unlike Petain, Bertie wasn't sentenced to death, but the former Taoiseach has been sentenced to the living death of being the designated national scapegoat to be boycotted by his own tribe.

It should be noted that Mr Ahern is the author of his current misfortune in a number of undeniable ways.

Though he profited well from the unrestrained love of the people, those who surf the tide of unreason should be prepared for an ungainly end when that tide, inevitably, turns.

In the case of Bertie, the same absence of reason that elevated him to the status of being the latest Irish Messiah to follow in the footsteps of Daniel O'Connell has now turned upon him in an illogical fashion.

Scapegoating Bertie may be the only acceptable Irish bloodsport, but it also represents the ongoing triumph of the herd instinct that got us to the land of 'we are where we are'.

However, while the great Irish herd that once believed Bertie was the solution to all our problems now believes he is the cause of all our woes, the truth is more complex.

The reason for Bertie Ahern's unloved status is best explained by the fable of Narcissus. In this tale, Narcissus is punished for the sin of pride in his beauty by a god, who leads him to a pool where Narcissus falls in love with his reflection to such an extent that he stays until he starves to death.

Bertie Ahern makes for an unlikely Narcissus. But the myth of Narcissus applies both to the betrayed electorate and the despised Taoiseach. Bertie may have been publicly pious but it was his belief in his own perfection that diverted him from the realities of State.

The electorate, too, were unable to tear themselves away from the false reflection of ourselves that Bertie fostered so enthusiastically.

And the only way the voters could deal with the gullibility, pride and arrogance that had characterised the Celtic Tiger was to turn 'our Bertie' into a national scarecrow.

Bertie may be the creature being hunted by the peasantry but just as Frankenstein was as guilty, if not more, than his hated monster, could it actually be the case that those voters who created the Bertie phenomenon are disguising their complicity in our destruction?

Sunday Independent

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