Sir -- There is a lot of understandable anger aimed at our ex-Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, for our economic, property and banking collapse in 2008/09, bringing our Celtic Tiger to a sudden and dramatic end. Anglo Irish Bank is almost gone, AIB has been nationalised, and Bank of Ireland is just holding its head above water.
Where Bertie and his governments went wrong was in not having any proper or meaningful regulation of our financial sector in the closing years of the Celtic Tiger, leading to our being famously described as the Wild West in that regard. Continuing recruitment of good financial expertise did not really happen in the Department of Finance, causing it to go slow like a barge going down a canal. The seeds of our own destruction were duly sown.
Bertie was, however, correct when he recently said a lot of people had "over-stretched themselves" and that it is now handy for them to blame someone. I would estimate about 40 per cent of the working population went overboard, as it was seen as trendy, to buy apartments to let in Eastern Europe and anywhere, with a fair number wanting to make a quick profit. People did over-extend themselves. Those in otherwise good jobs were tempted into becoming property investors.
It is proposed to bulldoze ghost estates built in all sorts of unsuitable locations. Planners ignored that some had been built on known flood plains. As Gay Byrne would say of his own investments, they went into it with their eyes wide open.
That doesn't remove the responsibility of overseeing the economy from Bertie Ahern's two successive governments. I can name three good finance ministers in the last 17 years: Labour's Ruairi Quinn in the Nineties followed by Bertie Ahern and Charlie McCreevy. They were all involved with the work of the department and didn't take their eye off the ball.
Bertie was, to be fair, as popular and well-liked a Taoiseach as Enda Kenny is at the moment. When he recently was reflecting on Fianna Fail as it was when he joined it in the Seventies, he mentioned the "good for nothings". These were members of an inner-city FF cumann, who were reluctant to canvass in an inner city area and had tea-parties instead amongst themselves, which were he said "useless". He has been quoted out of context a lot on this since.
Unfortunately, he has not been doing himself any favours since he resigned as Taoiseach in 2008. He was unwise to do the News of the World ad from a cupboard to promote his column. He obviously thought it would be a bit of craic, but it was disappointing and made a lot of people cringe, and it was the first sign that he was losing touch with us.
His main legacy was his work on the Northern Ireland peace process. He was careful and measured in what was a difficult and challenging situation in bringing Sinn Fein and the Unionists to a settlement. Let us give credit to Bertie for this. He was a very successful Taoiseach, gave good leadership and was respected by his peers in the European Union -- until it went pear-shaped rather dramatically. I also think his former partner in life, Celia Larkin, was a very good political sounding board, and once she was gone he did not appear to have the same grounding on issues. That seems to be life, I am afraid.
College Road, Cork