May 2008: Super Bertie

The man seemed to be a superhero. The Fantastic Four rolled into one. He started off as Anorak Man, back in the wet and windy bad old days of the 1980s. Later on, as he flew around the world, he became Banana Man, discarding the anorak for a pair of yellow trousers and a just-as-dodgy jacket.

Somewhere along the way, as he hung gamely onto the tail of the Celtic Tiger, he became the Teflon Taoiseach, a human with the fantastic powers of a non-stick frying pan. But, as in all comic book stories, every superhero has his Achilles’ heel. And the Teflon Taoiseach’s Kryptonite turned out to be two little old ladies from Drumcondra.

Ironically enough, they were living in his own constituency. A bit like The Penguin living beneath Batman’s Gotham City.

Bertie’s full name is Patrick Bartholomew Ahern. So, he could just as easily, if he moved in other circles, become known as Bart “I Didn’t Do It” Ahern instead of Bertie “A Lot Done, More To Do” Ahern. Or, indeed, Paddy Ahern, if he had been a plasterer or some other tradesman.

So what will the departing Taoiseach be best remembered for? We know what he would like to be remembered for, of course. The Peace Process and the Celtic Tiger are the phrases that trip off his lips so easily in these last days of his leadership. There can be no doubt that he played a huge part in achieving peace on our little island, using his much-vaunted negotiating skills, which he had honed during his days of dealing with the dastardly deeds of the trade unions, when he was Anorak Man.

And there is evidence that he at least was present at, and probably assisted in, the birth of the Celtic Tiger cub. Then there is the fact that he was fond of giving the odd bowl of shamrock to some small swaggering American guy. But most of us will remember him for other things, some of which he would rather not have on his CV.

He was unfortunate to have chosen Charlie Haughey, a man whose reputation was destroyed by revelations about his personal finances and lifestyle, as his mentor.  The ghost of Haughey haunted Ahern’s latter years, paticularly the oft-quoted comment that Haughey made about Bertie being “the most cunning of all” politicians.

Back in 1991, Bertie said, in an interview with In Dublin magazine, that he would “love to see Haughey get an overall majority. It’s about the only thing that he hasn’t achieved. I think that if he got that, within a few years he would go…” By January 1992, following a series of controversies in his cabinet, Haughey retired as leader of Fianna Fáil. So much for Bertie’s crystal ball skills.

Bertie also had the misfortune to be campaign manager during the “unbeatable” Brian Lenihen’s campaign for election as president of Ireland in 1990. Of course, Mary Robinson won and the rest is history, as they say. But during his period as the Teflon Taoiseach superhero, Bertie couldn’t really do anything wrong, what with the economy booming and, in his own words, becoming “more boomer”. Which brings me to another endearing trait of our departing Taoiseach and the one that I, personally, will remember him best for.

Bertie had a certain way with words, cumulating in his “they are really only playing smokes and daggers” phrase in recent times, when referring to the suggestion to defer pay increases due to his cabinet. (Incidently, he did eventually play the game of “cloaks and mirrors” and “smokes and daggers” by deferring these rises, having dismissed the possibility of this at first).

He also came out with the mind-twisting phrase: “It is not correct, and if I said so, I was not correct – I cannot recall if I said it, but I did not say, or if I did, I did not mean to say it – that these issues could not be dealt with until the end of the Mahon Tribunal.”  I’ll leave the interpretation of that to the lawyers, if you don’t mind.

Then we had him talking about “upsetting apple tarts” during the peace process and reminding those who criticised him that “sticks and bones will break my bones…”And what does one make of the following statement?”When you take a few indicators from any report, you can make Christmas be at Easter. I don’t believe any of that because Christmas is still on the 25th of December…”  God only knows what that means.

During a Dail debate on having Irish made an official EU language, Bertie informed us that  “the Maltese system is that they do 100 per cent of their parliamentary work, of their legal work, in Irish.”

But the one I like the best is when he declared that “people aren’t working in mucky jobs any more.”  That my friends, is pure class and Bertie at his superhero best. Such superpowers will never be gifted to Biffoman, the man entrusted with saving the world …or, at the very least, Ireland. Biffoman  must rue this, as he watches Bertie “Buzz” Lightyear soaring away to infinity and beyond.

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