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When it comes to upsetting apple tarts, Bertie's definitely our man

BERTIE delivered his Ard Fheis speech last night,with the benefit of auto-cue, although even with script in hand, he's prone to the gaffe.

Over the years, our colourful leader has flung white elephants and red herrings, tried not to upset apple tarts and transformed Temple Bar into Ireland's West Bank. At a Fianna Fáil rally in 1995 on the subject of infotech, he announced to the startled faithful that: "The grass roots, or the rank and file, are now made from fibre optics." Surely a bigger coup than rural electrification in the 1950s?

They say that the past is another country, but even Buck Rogers would be in a spin about Bertie's time travelling efforts. He conceded in a 1997 RTÉ interview that: "There's one thing I can't do I can't change the past..." And then he continued: "All that we're trying to do is to clean up the past."

It didn't end there.

At the 1998 Ard Fheis, he announced: "The cynics may be able to point to the past but we live in the future and we work for the future." Three years later, he's still working for the future even though it's in the past if we think about it. Confused? I certainly am.

One of Bertie's favourite speech-making props is to refer vaguely to 'people' all the time. Lest anyone think he was deposited under a cabbage by UFOs in Drumcondra, he said in 1997 that: "I came up through the people system."

He's a master of the truism: "It's no good in politics devising policies that do not have the support of the people and cannot win the support of the people." The Taoiseach is also enthusiastic about Ministers pressing the flesh, as he said to Brian Farrell in 1999 (at the height of the Tom Gilmartin controversy): "Well Ministers ... regularly and this is a good thing in this democracy meet people. It is a very good idea, I think, for Ministers to meet people."

Bertie's definitely a people person. During the last general election: "I understand the problems of people people in factories and on farms, in small businesses, at home, in schools and communities."

Sometimes he likes to keep people out of the firing line too. He declared in 1992: "It's no point in personalising any of the people involved in this." Bertie is a consensus man but that's because political infighting can get hot and heavy. Appealing to Jim Mitchell in 1994, he said: "I don't think it helps people to start throwing white elephants and red herrings at each other." Bertie was also the man who said we shouldn't "upset the apple tart".

Although he has.

On divorce in 1994: "It's a matter that an awful lot of people want or maybe an awful lot of people don't want and the people will decide ultimately."

On assuming the Fianna Fáil leadership: "Now we will be an aggressive opposition where we oppose things, and we'll support things that we support."

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