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Three-term winner whose lust for power led to ruin

No one, and certainly not Bertie Ahern, expected the Mahon Tribunal to demolish his reputation so comprehensively.

They didn't use the "L" word but did not believe a word of the evidence he gave under oath -- a shameful and shocking finding against a three-time Taoiseach.

Cast as a political bogeyman, Bertie Ahern is now the sort of scary figure adults use to frighten bold children into compliant behaviour.

But not just children: a senior member of the Fianna Fail frontbench spat out a four-letter expletive when the former leader entered the party's ard fheis three weeks ago.

Later, he was given a standing ovation, but that was more keeping up appearances than spontaneous affection for a former three-term Taoiseach.

Even that fig leaf has gone now as the party prepares to cast him into the darkness of life outside the embrace of Fianna Fail.

Coping with indifference or even anger from passers-by is a social skill he has had to study recently, like learning how to drive again.

His phenomenal rise and subsequent catastrophic crash is a modern political morality tale based on the warning: be careful what you wish for.

Bertie Ahern fulfilled every ambition he had ever dared to have but the subsequent fall is equally dramatic, deeply personal and extremely hurtful.

The report of the Mahon Tribunal is just backdated bookkeeping: the squalid details of his personal finances and the dog-ate-my-homework excuses were already known.

The elephant in the tribunal chamber was: did developer Owen O'Callaghan pay IR£80,000 to Bertie Ahern?

When the tribunal investigated Ahern's finances, they found no evidence of any payments from O'Callaghan but it did discover a series of odd and unusual transactions in various currencies.

The former Taoiseach was never accused of taking bribes but his testimony about the circumstances of "dig-outs" and other payments made to him were bizarre.

Incredulity grew at testimony describing his exotic banking arrangements culminating in his "I won the money on a horse" explanation.

Bertie Ahern had stumbled in the witness box and offered no detail on his lame-horse explanation that insulted the public's intelligence.

And after the evidence that saw his secretary reduced to tears in the witness box his credibility was traduced among Fianna Failers too.

But the slings and arrows from the Mahon Tribunal Report are nothing compared to the daily round of small slights from people avoiding him who once sought his company.

He once strode around Dublin Central like their hero returning triumphant from battle; now he is wary about speaking to his former constituents for fear of their insults.

For a politician who was known by his first name among insiders in Washington, Brussels and London, Mr Ahern's worldview was focused through a lens in Dublin central.

Denial

Alongside Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, he eventually shepherded Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley into a Northern Ireland Executive that defied history and even logic.

But it was the economy, stupid, as President Clinton said in his 1992 election campaign, that eventually did for Bertie Ahern.

The former Taoiseach is still in denial about his, and his government's, role in the economic collapse.

At the last election he rolled out the line "it was all fine when I left it" -- just as the builders of the 'Titanic' claimed in Belfast 100 years ago "she was all right when she left here".

The seeds of his political downfall, and the economic crash, were germinating while he took a standing ovation through his decade as Taoiseach.

When he was elected Taoiseach in 1997, Bertie Ahern worked closely with the Secretary General to the government who shared much of his vision.

The unions lined up alongside the employers in the calls for tax cuts -- and the government conceded every demand for a hike in public service pay.

Bertie Ahern even declared himself a "socialist' and his government's union-friendly policies sidelined the Labour Party.

Budgets for health were multiplied but the money went on wages and the service suffered permanent damage from lack of investment and planning.

Charlie McCreevy was the watchdog in Cabinet that didn't bark and the PDs forgot their economic liberalism while Bertie stoked the boiler with benchmarking.

Big government was getting bigger, boosted by a property boom while the Cabinet's collective ego was fattened by flattery from Brussels.

To win his third term as Taoiseach, Charlie McCreevy was dispatched to Europe and Bertie embraced Fr Sean Healy at a Fianna Fail think-in.

There were oohs and aahs when Bertie invited Robert Putnam, the author of 'Bowling Along' to show he had not ignored "the vision thing".

There was Bertie: an inner-city regular guy made good in government who was content with a few pints and a Sunday at Croke Park.

It was only when the tribunal began looking into his finances that it appeared he was concerned about money -- his own money.

He was extraordinarily generous to any needy cause, including public service workers, with taxpayers' money.

Back in his own constituency, he had a well-oiled re-election machine semi-detached from Fianna Fail's national organisation and answerable only to Bertie and his ward bosses.

The Mahon Report is a grim tale of a man who literally sacrificed everything for political success: his marriage broke up because of his lust for power.

His long relationship with Celia Larkin ran out of steam when his personal commitment to her fell short of his political ambition.

Fianna Failers are now embarrassed when he shows up at their gigs -- and many believe his greatest sin was robbing the party of its reputation for competence.

He sold it all for the £IR165,214.25p that passed through his accounts that he failed to account for to the Irish people.

History may be kinder to Bertie Ahern than the Mahon Report but he will be home alone for a long time waiting for its knock on his door.

Irish Independent