Saturday 21 April 2018

Bertie basks in glow of praise from Alastair

Bertie Ahern and Alastair Campbell at the book launch
Bertie Ahern and Alastair Campbell at the book launch
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

It turned out that Bertie hadn't taken the hump with Alastair Campbell after all. When the latest volume of diaries from the former British spin doctor focusing on the Good Friday Agreement was published this week, there was no sign of the former Taoiseach on the book cover.

There, shoulder-to-shoulder on the front of 'The Irish Diaries' are US President Bill Clinton, UUP leader David Trimble, the SDLP's Seamus Mallon and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. But nary a sign of Bertie at the location of his greatest political success.

But it seems he didn't mind, and he strolled into the RHA last night for the launch of the book and a Q&A session with the author conducted by Miriam O'Callaghan.

And lo and behold, the first person name-checked by Alastair was the former Taoiseach. "Bertie was so fundamental to the whole thing – it angers me when I hear some of the things that have been said about him," he said.

A while later, Alastair returned to the subject, praising his "incredible capacity for absorbing what most people would regard as straightforward rudeness from the unionists".

In fairness, the peace process is a feather in Bertie's cap, and in 'The Irish Diaries', Alastair is emphatic about how important the combination of the various personalities of the leaders were to seeing the whole tortuous process over the line 15 years ago.

The book gives a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the painful negotiations unfolded.

And Alastair, a famously peppery press officer, paints vivid portraits of the main players – although during the interview he did admit that at the time of writing, he had been overly unkind about the choleric leader of the UUP, David Trimble.

Among the audience were writer John Banville, businessman Harry Crosbie, former junior foreign affairs minister Liz O'Donnell, U2 manager Paul McGuinness, former Fianna Fail minister Martin Mansergh, and secretary general at the Department of Public Reform, Robert Watt and historian Ronan Fanning.

But Bertie had one more moment in the sun. Sitting beside him was another former government press secretary, PJ Mara, who decided to have one more spin on the merry-go-round.

When the interview was opened to the floor, PJ was up out of his seat immediately and launched into a spirited defence of his pal.

"I've been of the view for a long time that whatever faults Bertie Ahern has, and he has fault as every public figure has, but every Taoiseach this country ever had would have given their right arms to have achieved what this man has achieved.

"Not many people have given him the credit he deserved," he declared.

Modest Bertie sat quietly. And not even the notoriously argumentative Alastair dared disagree.

Irish Independent

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