| 7.5°C Dublin

Gerry O'Carroll: Bertie lectures us on living within our means as he enjoys the good life ...

I'VE heard it all now. Our esteemed former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is busy telling us all to "pull together" and keep our "expectations in line with economic realities" while he rakes in more than €150,000 a year and dabbles in various lucrative nixers.

It's a bit rich for the self-styled man of the people. He carefully cultivated his image as the anorak-wearing politician of simple means, but he's been living the high life since resigning as leader in 2008.

His TD salary and ministerial pension nets him almost €155,000 a year, despite the fact that he's rarely seen in the Dail these days. Then there's his relationship with the Washington Speakers Bureau which farms him out to high-profile engagements at a minimum cost of €29,000.


Throw in a free trip to Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Italy last year, his sideline job as a sports columnist and the income from his autobiography and it seems Bertie's pockets are extremely well lined. He also has the luxury of a chauffeur-driven car for the rest of his life, a ridiculous, unjustified expense in troubled times.

One might expect him to count his blessings and keep his head down, but Bertie was disingenuous enough to tell students at Oxford University that we need to tone down our expectations and pull together. His latest comments smack of mockery towards the thousands mired in negative equity or facing unemployment or house repossession.

I don't begrudge him his success, and my remarks here should not detract from the credit he deserves for helping to bring an end to 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. But I refuse to ignore his role in bringing this country to the verge of economic ruin.

He refuses to accept responsibility for sleepwalking us into the worst chaos in our finances since the foundation of the State. He's like Pontius Pilate. While people like George Lee and David McWilliams warned that the economic boom was based on unsustainable building, Bertie and his unholy trinity of builders, developers and bankers drove us into this terrible situation. It was a case of Nero fiddling while Rome burned, because when we should have been concentrating on our economic woes, we were listening to Bertie delivering outlandish excuses for his personal finances in the tribunal.

He paints himself as a true blue Dub and he still hasn't quashed speculation that he may bid to be Dublin's new elected Lord Mayor. But Dubliners beware, Bertie believes his fellow county men and women should be taxed for the privilege of living in the city. And he believes this harsh tax should be implemented by the new Mayor.

His legacy is a sorry one, including a disastrous health service, unemployment and emigration, dysfunctional banks and a crippling burden of debt.

Far from boasting of his success, Bertie should hang his head in shame. As far as I'm concerned, he must face the fact that the finger of history will some day point to him as the architect of our misfortune.

Let us rugby fans sup a pint, even if it is Good Friday

As a Munster man, I always relish a rugby clash with our Leinster neighbours. Alas, this year's match is marred by controversy because of the bizarre decision to play it on Good Friday, a day when the sale of liquor is prohibited. However, what's done is done, and it's up to everyone to make the best of a bad situation. That's why I'm praying fervently that Limerick vintners will be successful in their attempts to secure an exemption to allow the pubs to open.

This isn't about an alcohol-soaked party. Remember that Thomond Park is a special venue and Munster fans are well known for their great loyalty. Furthermore, it's well documented that rugby supporters are well behaved and there is no history of violence or public disorder at matches. So, it's a terrible kick in the teeth for this city that the thousands of fans travelling to the Treaty City might be denied the chance to sup a pint in local hostelries.

Limerick, just like everywhere else in Ireland, could badly do with the expected €6m boost to the coffers.

I listened with interest to the words of barrister Constance Cassidy who said she believed the vintners had a good chance of securing the exemption. Let's hope she's right. After all, it's desperately unfair that fans should be denied a pint of their favourite tipple on such a momentous sporting occasion.

Take heed of judge on thugs, Mr Ahern

I sincerely hope that our Justice Minister Dermot Ahern has been paying heed to the latest revelations in the Criminal Courts while he's enjoying some Parisian hospitality for St Patrick's Day.

The respected Judge Paul Carney has spoken out about a recent trial which he said was conducted in "an atmosphere of intimidation", and he paid tribute to the courage of jury members and witnesses.

It is further proof that the Special Criminal Courts must be employed to try people accused of armed, organised or drug crime in a non-jury setting.

In the latest case, Mr Justice Carney presided over the trial of Coolock man Michael Brennan, who was this week sentenced to 10 years in prison for the attempted murder of James Egan in 2006 because of a €200 drug debt.

Brennan was so confident that witnesses would not testify in the case that he told gardai: "I don't think people will step up. They won't go to court."

Unfortunately for him, the witnesses did testify, prompting Judge Carney to point out that their courage had "overcome the accused's express view that he was untouchable".

His comments come just weeks after the names and addresses of jurors were discovered in the home of the girlfriend of a leading gangland criminal.

Matters are spiralling out of control, and Judge Carney's revelation has reinforced the fact that our judicial system is under threat from criminals who are capable of wreaking untold havoc. Surely it's time for Minister Ahern to finally take heed and ensure that no future trials are conducted in "an atmosphere of intimidation".

Jurors are ordinary citizens and they should not be expected to shoulder responsibility in cases involving armed or drug-related crimes.

I have pleaded with the minister in the past and I reiterate those pleas now. All trials relating to armed, organised and drug crime must be conducted in the Special Criminal Court.

He should heed the words of Judge Carney and realise that if it wasn't for the bravery of the jury and various witnesses, Michael Brennan would be a free man today, despite his crime.

Minister, it's high time you took action and ensured that the Special Criminal Court is the only venue for trials involving these thugs.