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For once in his life, Bertie should listen to Celia - and shut up

RIGHT at the top of the programme, it happened. Marian Finucane asked Celia Larkin the opening question about Bertie dissing the members of Fianna Fail cumanns. Out came the soundbite.

That was the headline-grabber. But the rest of the sentence was what was more interesting.

"He doesn't do himself any favours."

Right and right again.

Because, while it will be seen as an attack, his former partner's comment is actually good advice from someone who seems to have a continuing regard for him.

Certainly, in her column in yesterday's Sunday Independent, she reiterated a belief that he hadn't been corrupt.

Madonna has nothing on Celia Larkin when it comes to reinvention.

I encountered her a couple of times when I worked with the former Taoiseach on speeches for Ard Fheiseanna. She was there but not there, if that's possible. Businesslike, quiet, efficient as one of his executive team. Never seeking to be liked. Just doing the job.

Then, she briefly got into the image business and ran her own shops.


When the last shop fell victim to the recession, people contacted Joe Duffy to complain that their gift tokens would not be honoured.

Now, any good PR person will tell you that if you or your business are under Liveline attack, you think long and hard about the invitation to go on and "tell your side of the story."

You count to ten.

You count to a hundred.

You remember that the history of Liveline is written in the blood of people who thought they'd do a grand job defending themselves.

Yet Celia Larkin went on Joe Duffy, explained where the gift tokens could be used and managed to hammer home that she was going to pay off all the debts involved, no matter how long it took her.

She subsequently went to university to study politics.

And, at the same time, began to do political analysis for the Sunday Independent. Readers might not agree with that analysis -- I rarely do -- but it's sophisticated and well-argued. She would occasionally tell a story about Bertie, but it was never a personal story.

No whinges about the episode with the Cardinal, where he objected to her presence in a receiving line.

No complaints about being left out of family gatherings.

Larkin is worth a PR thesis.

She has managed, not just to reinvent herself, but to be public and private at one and the same time.

Now that Bertie's daughters are planning a big sixtieth birthday party for him in Croke Park, the most appropriate spot for such a celebration, it's clear that Celia Larkin has not been and will not be invited.

It's also clear that she will make no comment on the issue, because that's private.

Yet she expressed the wish that Bertie would shut up.

Admittedly, she added that she had often given him advice he had ignored, including telling him that he should leave office much earlier than he did.

She believes no Taoiseach should serve three terms -- indeed she holds that a Government being in power (albeit with changing partners in coalition) for as long as a decade is bad for the nation.

She expressed both beliefs to her former partner. He ignored her. To his cost.

Had Bertie gone after the Good Friday agreement, we would now have a very different view of the man who contributed so heavily to peace in Northern Ireland.


Tonight, viewers will see the first of Ursula Halligan's documentaries on the rise and fall of Fianna Fail, with Bertie, inevitably, centre stage.

Halligan is a terrifying reporter who jolts people into saying stuff they later wish they hadn't said. But interviews for a documentary are long, thoughtful and considered.

It's unlikely Bertie was jolted into attacking FF members. If he'd had Celia Larkin's advice in advance -- and listened to it -- he'd have done himself a favour. As she said.