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Praise of Ahern's failed politics

Reading Bertie Ahern's departure speech along with Brian Cowen's tribute, I am disappointed but not surprised to see both politicians yet again revert to their dream histories, rather than confront the realities of their disastrous administrations.

In his curiously distant tribute -- cordial rather than enthusiastic -- Mr Cowen describes Mr Ahern as the "consummate politician of his generation". If you take Tammany Hall as your model, yes, Bertie was a great politician.

By his own admission, he appointed his cronies to state boards simply because they were friends of his -- the result was economic basket cases like the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, FAS and the Central Bank.

According to Mr Cowen, Mr Ahern was a superb negotiator. After the ATM of benchmarking, the scandalous deals with the religious orders and the doubling of public service pay costs in five years, no doubt the public service unions and the religious would agree.

However, as Mr Cowen has continued with Mr Ahern's ATM public service pay policy through the bizarre Croke Park agreement, these remarks are hardly surprising.

What does surprise is that Mr Ahern is credited with a single economic achievement -- that of successfully guiding us through the devaluation crisis, if anyone can remember it.

According to the Cowen tribute, no other economic events of note occurred during Bertie's reign as either Taoiseach or Finance Minister -- no property bubble, no failure of financial regulation, no banks and developers riding headlong into oblivion and most of all, no Celtic Tiger, no boom getting boomier and no bust.

Was it all my imagination? Or could it be that the Ahern Celtic Tiger era is already being airbrushed out of Fianna Fail history?

To be fair to Mr Ahern, he does indeed mention great failure but only to point out that the situation is more complex than it first appears. This, unfortunately for Mr Ahern, is not true.

If you pursue policies of relentless populism; if you increase public service pay and social welfare benefits while reducing taxation; if you believe that there can never be enough new houses, even when the price of a modest new house is 10 times the average industrial wage; if you allow the banking sector to become five times bigger than the economy then you are heading for disaster.

If you are warned of this and you tell your critics to commit suicide, you are a buffoon. If you then say nobody warned you, you are beyond belief.

Mr Ahern's final remarks, in which he professed to follow in the footsteps of De Valera and Lemass, were a disgrace. There were no circumstances in which Lemass would have sought a digout from anyone or expected a tribunal to believe he had won a large sum of money on a horse whose name he had forgotten.

This insolent linking of his name with that of Lemass is the final tawdry action of a politician who has debased the office of Taoiseach in a recent tawdry television advertisement for one of the most tawdry newspapers in print.

Anthony O'Leary
Portmarnock, Co Dublin

Irish Independent