MOSTLY, people age rapidly in office, but Bertie Ahern didn’t. The ageing has come with retirement: he’s whiter, fatter and sadder. The man who lived politics and needed no hinterland, finds himself bereft of meaning. The unknowable man, whose friends were his friends because they were part of Project Bertie, is strangely alone.
The most revealing statement I ever remember Bertie ever making about ethics came in 2006 when he was outraged by the suggestion that he had given friends of his public appointments because they had given him money. Not so, said Bertie. He had given them public appointments because they were friends. As, of course, they gave him money because he was their friend. Bertie’s friends were not friends as most people understand them. They were satellites circling his planet and they were all there for the good of Project Bertie, which was good for Fianna Fail and even good for the country. In their view.
In January 2011, in his last appearance in the Dail, Bertie regretted not his part in the ruin of the economy but his failure to push through the Ceausescu-style Bertie Bowl while the country still had a few bob. Yesterday, Leo Varadkar wrote the idea off for all time. Today, Bertie will be relieved at being found not guilty of corruption by Mahon, but he’ll be outraged that he’s accused of having lied about the sources of various disputed tranches of money.
The purpose of Mahon was to kick a few cans down the road, but it didn’t work out like that and Bertie was hauled before it. Now remember that Bertie was the Treasurer of Fianna Fail when Charlie Haughey was robbing the party. Bertie didn’t do anything about that: he just signed the blank cheques, for to do anything else would have jeopardised Project Bertie. He knew well that Haughey was corrupt and knew that by comparison he was an honest man.
So Bertie felt he had done nothing wrong in taking money from friends who just wanted to help. He has been found guilty of lying, but sure wasn’t he forced to fib because people were asking unreasonable, intrusive, impertinent questions and honest answers would even more unreasonably have led to embarrassment for him and his magic circle, who had all selflessly provided money just to make it possible for Bertie successfully to go on running Ireland.
He’ll be feeling very ill-used today. And older and sadder.