Tuesday 15 October 2019

Bertie's 'political rebirth' could impact upon the party's own tricky efforts at reinvention

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. Photo: Arthur Carron
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin with former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen. Photo: Arthur Carron
John Downing

John Downing

Has Bertie Ahern done his time? And just how bad was his crime in the first place?

His old Dublin Central party organisation believe Mr Ahern, forced to resign from Fianna Fáil in the wake of the Mahon Tribunal in 2012, should be invited to rejoin.

His resignation preceded a signal from the party leader, Micheál Martin, that he would move to have him expelled.

There would be some considerable advantages for Fianna Fáil in Bertie Ahern's political rebirth. Just take a sideways glance at his CV.

A TD for 34 years, holding that Dáil seat across 10 general elections, Labour and finance minister, Taoiseach for almost 11 years, leading the party to win three general elections. And Fianna Fáil is not coming down with people who know how to win votes, street by street.

The man has proved he still has things to say about the current political issues. A practiced strike-fixer and one of the architects of social partnership in 1987, he is interesting on the current public pay crux. Even when he was at his lowest ebb, nobody ever tried to take away credit due to him for Northern Ireland peace negotiations, culminating in the Good Friday Agreement, and all its difficult follow-on stages.

As somebody who attended 11 years of EU leaders' summits, and was finance minister through the EU currency grid crises of the early 1990s, he is well worth listening to about Brexit.

In the immediate wake of the British referendum vote, he was giving a very lucid outline of what was coming.

Alongside former Fine Gael Taoiseach John Bruton, who is also a former EU ambassador to Washington, he offers a wealth of knowledge.

But there is a downside - as he left the party under a cloud and was the subject of some public opprobrium.

This writer's own view is that some of the vulgar abuse levelled at the man has come from gutless people who a short few years ago were fawning over him. But that is the brutality of politics sometimes.

The pragmatic assessment for Fianna Fáil turns around how much damage it would do to their own tricky efforts at reinvention. Note that we are already accepting some damage would be done - the real question is whether it would be serious enough to outweigh the undoubted advantages cited above.

In March 2012, the Mahon Tribunal found that Mr Ahern had failed to truthfully account for a total of IR£165,214 that passed through accounts connected to him. He has emphatically rejected these findings, arguing they were "opinions".

But the Mahon findings hurt his reputation and that of Fianna Fáil.

Under Micheál Martin they are trying to distance themselves from the "old days". We are told this is not good news for the party leadership and headquarters.

Part of the party calculation would be to divine how much residual anger may be out there against them. The next move is up to the man himself. A return to elected politics is unlikely, but he could play a very strong advisory role.

Irish Independent

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