27 TDs from the main political parties have thus far announced their intention to step down from the Dáil and not contest the 2011 General Election. Amongst the 27 is former Taoiseach and TD for Dublin Central, Bertie Ahern.
“It was always my plan that I would step down before I was 60. With an election due in the spring and my next birthday in September being my 60th, I want to confirm tonight that I will not be a candidate at the next general election,” Ahern stated.
Despite the controversy that has marred the latter days of his career, Bertie Ahern’s three-time electoral success has cemented his position in Irish political history. Ahern was once hailed as the most successful politician in the state since Eamon de Valera. Infamous former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey described him as “the most skillful, most devious, most cunning of them all”. Ahern is also Ireland’s longest-serving Taoiseach.
His role in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement was greatly praised; he notably flew back to Belfast for negotiations following his mother’s funeral. His position as an architect of the social partnership in the 1980s during his time as Minister for Labour is also acknowledged. However, it is as of yet uncertain whether these successes or the more recent failures will define Ahern’s political legacy.
“It is not given to anyone in life who tries and tries again not to sometimes fail. Years of apparently great success then are apparently tainted by great failures now,” Ahern acknowledged. “But when that stock is taken, when the eleven years I had the honour to be Taoiseach are more coldly considered, the many positives will be put into the balance with the negatives.”
Of course suspicions have been raised as regards the true motivations behind Ahern’s decision. Speculation arguably stems from an inherent belief that politicians such as Ahern rarely keep the promises they make: a track record of alleged dishonesty and brown envelope deals has done little to instil faith in the population when it comes to the good intentions of this particular politician.
The Sunday Business Post claimed earlier this month that following Budget cutbacks, Ahern still stands to gain €60,000 by leaving the political arena before the next general election. This revelation could serve to fuel the fires of electoral disbelief and discontent. Has Ahern always truly intended to leave the political sphere before his 60th birthday? Or is he yet again, as was suggested by many in 2008, slipping discretely out the door in pursuit of self-interest, narrowly avoiding the electoral carnage that his political party potentially faces?
It would seem that disillusionment with the former Taoiseach is deep-seated; allegations surrounding Ahern have proven so pervasive that the issue was even alluded to on the most recent edition of The Late Late Toy Show. It would be interesting to discern whether children’s novel Dirty Bertie proved a more popular Christmas present amongst younger or older readers following that fiasco.
As regards his handling of the country’s financial future, Ahern was adamant that nobody had warned him about the banking sector. Though this may be true, Ahern was warned of the unstable nature of the property sector: he responded by commenting that he didn’t know how these wary economists didn’t “commit suicide”.
It could be argued that Ahern’s resignation as Taoiseach in 2008 was definitive. Controversially trading the Dáil Cabinet for a kitchen cabinet in his new role as a sports correspondent for the News of The World, Ahern caused a furore. UCD Professor of Modern Irish History Diarmaid Ferriter suggested that the move illustrated how Ahern was “bereft of something that is essential to politicians of substance, regardless of their successes or failures: dignity”.
Ahern’s recent comments regarding Brian Cowen’s conduct during the recent crisis were indeed undignified. Cowen described Ahern as the “consummate politician of his generation”; Ahern responded with a critique of Cowen’s conduct. “My view is you’re better doing it my way, but he opted not to do that,” said Ahern, condemning Cowen’s failure to communicate with the Irish people.
Ahern asserted that the Government failed to act decisively enough to avoid the necessity of intervention. “If we had said to the markets […] there were things we were going to do, it could have made a difference.” Are these comments truly made with the benefit of hindsight or with more politically opportunistic motivations? It is of course widely accepted that Ahern’s ambitions extend to the Áras.
Regardless of his successes or failures, it must be acknowledged that Ahern’s significance within Fianna Fáil and his place in Irish political history have been secured. Bertie Ahern will leave the Dáil on May 6th 2011, and it is certain there will be no ‘P.S. I love you’ between him and Brian Cowen.