One of the problems about writing columns for a living is that, like an imprudent sexual encounter many years ago, it can come back to haunt you in terrible ways. A reader has reminded me of what I wrote just over three years ago.
"Ahern is palpably a good man, who, as a politician, palpably sought to do good deeds. Which he did, and for very little personal reward. In the process, he has redefined Irish republicanism more cogently than any politician, since Wolfe Tone enunciated its founding principles. Not merely will he be remembered as one of the greatest Irishmen of the 20th century, but, in matching lofty aspiration with actual outcome, to my mind, he is the greatest."
Now I must have been on something really odd that day, because of all people, Wolfe Tone truly embodied all that I despise about Irish republicanism: a devotion to violence, a willingness to kill any Irishman who didn't see eye to eye with him, and a fair dollop of hypocrisy -- after all, how different would his life (and Ireland) have been if he had been granted what he originally sought, a safe imperial sinecure in the Sandwich Islands?
But there we are. I wrote that gibberish. And I have a fair idea of why I was so enthusiastic about Bertie Ahern. He had espoused the great cause of my life, the official state acknowledgement of the Irish soldiers of the Great War. And he had also declined an invitation to join the lynch-mob which some of my dear, dear colleagues in the media had set on me, and which even included a former "friend" or two. But these don't quite excuse or explain or justify that full-blooded encomium I penned about him. Now I read how much he is taking in pensions -- €150,000 pa -- and expenses -- €270,000 in three years -- from a state that he helped bankrupt, and I realise I simply don't know the man; he is a complete and utter mystery to me.
But that is both the nature of all politicians, and most particularly, the way of the peace process as it developed under the triumvirate of Ahern, Blair and Adams. Which of them would not drop a principle quicker than a cat turd if it suited him? The coincidences of time and history brought together this extraordinary trinity of irrepressible and beguiling narcissists, who viewed all things through the deranged prisms of their own egos. The most spectacular survivor is Adams, who was in the IRA at the very outset of the Provisionals' meaningless and evil war: he remained in charge throughout, as the IRA disarmed and abandoned its objectives, even as he negotiated a stunning British victory. Yet despite this ignominious capitulation, he remains the undisputed republican leader. Foreign journalists often ask me to explain how the peace process worked; I could more easily explain the secrets of an iPad, using Chinese calligraphy, than I could do that.
But Ahern, Blair and Adams are merely an expression of a common but not universal phenomenon: the power-gene. Most people haven't got it, and don't understand it. Yet all political classes are not merely drawn to power by this gene, but they are addicted to it. The most unnerving examples of pure power-hunger can be found in non-parliamentary systems where one doesn't need to work through the dreary tedium of the backbenches, and where one can make one's mark early as a legal adviser, a consultant or a lobbyist. Such saurian carnivores -- like Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Henry Kissinger and Donald Rumsfeld -- understand moral scruples like a Buddhist nun understands bullfighting.
But we need such people to run the state and endure the tedium of politics. They will sit through meetings that last all night; they will sacrifice their home lives, spurn their friends, forget their parents, jettison loyalties and disdain their principles in order to achieve acclaim, or power, or esteem, or headlines. They keep politics going with their insane appetites. They are salamanders, their metabolisms avaricious for the white heat of power and publicity, whereas the rest of us are moist and mild amphibians, affably sliding in and out of the tepid waters of everyday life.
We should never mistake these reptiles with their asbestos-hides for our friends. They only serve at the altar of their egos, high in the great cathedral of political power. He who tells you he seeks a place in the Senate for the betterment of the human race, or she who assures you that she is entering Dail politics only because of her principles: Reader, be certain only of this, they are lying. And if you ever again hear me singing the praises of some politician, then rest assured: there is a simple explanation. The muscles of abdominal common sense have ruptured, and the entrails of idiocy are protruding in a large round swelling: yes, I am suffering from Ahernia, as I clearly was when I originally wrote the ridiculous quot-ation with which I began this column.
Remember this always. A politician respects honour in precisely the same degree that he pronounces its opening letter.