Sunday 24 February 2019

Bertie, Tony, Bono and Bob are new 'Fab Four'

Bob Geldof, Bertie Ahern, Bono and Tony Blair prior to last night's gala dinner organised by the charity Turn the Tide of Suicide to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement
Bob Geldof, Bertie Ahern, Bono and Tony Blair prior to last night's gala dinner organised by the charity Turn the Tide of Suicide to mark the 10th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement

LISE HAND

"We could do it together," Bertie whispered to Tony, and the pair of them dissolved into fits of giggles like two naughty schoolboys.

The outgoing Taoiseach and the already-departed prime minister were taking a few questions from the media in Dublin Castle before a gala dinner to honour Bertie's old pal Tony Blair for getting stuck-in with sorting out Northern Ireland.

Everyone is in full 'Be Nice to Bertie' mode -- last week he was bestowed with the very apt description of "a global Dub", and last night in Dublin Castle, Tony Blair hailed him as "a committed and dedicated and determined person for peace".

But the genuine bonhomie and warmth between the two compadres may soon disappear, as both Tony's trilby and Bertie's beanie are both poised to be flung into the ring for the Big Job of first President of the EU. When asked if he thought that Bertie would be a good choice for the plum gig, Tony twinkled and laughed as Bertie grinned beside him.

"There is absolutely no job that this man could not do," he said with great diplomacy. The Taoiseach leaned over to his pal and muttered in what he obviously thought was sotto voce, "We could do it together," he suggested, sending them both into knots.

But this is one of undoubtedly many dinners and tributes that the Taoiseach will have to attend during his long goodbye, and at times as Tony Blair rolled out the praise, Bertie looked a little sad. He is not a man for looking back -- talk to him about his past achievements, and his answer is inevitably about all the stuff he has left to do.

Yet he was determined to enjoy himself last night. He arrived at 5.25pm precisely, and was waiting in the upper courtyard of Dublin Castle to welcome Tony, but the former prime minister became entangled in one of those woeful webs of gridlock -- something to do with a bus breaking down in Fairview -- all-too familiar to city commuters.

And so Bertie hung around the courtyard with a gaggle of press, everyone enjoying a bit of late evening sunshine in companionable silence, broken only by flurries of chimes from the bells of St Patrick's.

Finally, Tony arrives, and jumps out of the car, face wreathed in smiles. Then suddenly out of nowhere, Bob Geldof wanders over, sporting a voluminous baker boy cap and a hobo-chic coat. Bertie didn't seem to mind, and enveloped him in a fierce hug.

Irreverent

The rock star quotient rose higher when Bono wandered in. One irreverent reporter asked him if he thought that Bertie would make a good U2 roadie.

"He has the humility of a man who would rather be the drummer than the singer, and that's to be admired," wisecracked Bono.

But this was a Be Nice to Bertie night, and the U2 singer added his praise to the proceedings.

"Under Bertie's leadership Ireland is 6th in the world in terms of the per capita GDP commitment to the poor of the world.

"So Bertie's a great friend and partner to the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

"I also like him. The real mark is his modesty, accessibility and stamina."

The proceeds of the gala dinner will go to the 3Ts: Turn the Side of Suicide organisation for a number of North/South initiatives.

Among the guests were former US Senator George Mitchell, Larry Goodman, property tycoons Johnny Rohan, Dermot Desmond and Jim Mansfield and Noel Smyth, chairman of the charity.

During the evening, the Taoiseach presented Tony Blair with a Guy Hanscomb painting titled 'Beach Scene, Brittas Bay'.

Nor did any of the 200 or so guests go home empty-handed, as before the dinner they all got a chance to get their photo taken with Bertie, Tony, Bono and Bob who stood patiently together as groups of chuffed guests were speedily ushered over, snapped and dispatched like batches of fluffy toys on the conveyor belt of the 'Generation Game'.

But nobody really felt like talking politics last night.

When Tony was asked during the press conference what he thought Bertie should do next, the Taoiseach leaned over and gave him another dig-out.

"More Manchester United matches," he prompted his pal, and the pair of them started laughing again.

Next season, if you see two blokes having the craic in a pub in Newcastle or Manchester, one sporting the black and white strip of the Toon Army and the other the colours of the Red Devils, look closely. It may be two former leaders of Ireland and Britain.

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