THE return of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to Fianna Fáil and the political stage is surely one of the most depressing moments of 2023. And with the rise of the far right and the DUP blocking progress, and it still being February, that is really saying something.
That it is being done under some dewy-eyed nostalgia for the good old Irish politics of the Good Friday Agreement makes it even less edifying.
In 2008 the Irish economy collapsed, families lost homes, and suicide rates leaped. Ordinary people bore the brunt of banks and beneficiaries that spent money, hid money and operated without any money at all. Bertie Ahern was the face of the Celtic Tiger and privileged greed.
What better way to mark Bertie Ahern rejoining Fianna Fáil than to watch him being interviewed on Conflict Zone. pic.twitter.com/bZXZvwHOqR— Dr Harold News (@DrHaroldNews) February 8, 2023
I'm not saying Ahern wasn’t popular. Just the year before he nearly got an overall majority in the general election. He led a government that was codding the population into thinking they were rich and could borrow to build, all while running a fiscal policy not seen since Dodge City in 1886.
And with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement being marked in the weeks ahead, Fianna Fáil collective amnesia will be suspended for that anniversary, if not for the legacy of its own corruption.
While Ahern’s government was about to crash mortgages, homes and jobs on to the rocks, his own financial 'affairs' are what ultimately did for him. The Taoiseach, a former Minister for Finance, a Mr 'Fixer', had no bank account but was, with his mates, being given hundreds of thousands of pounds. When that was a lot of money.
The long-running Mahon Tribunal slowly, but devastatingly, uncovered the extent of Ahern’s messing and mé féinism. Even Fianna Fáil, the party that didn’t notice the corruption of another former leader buying an island, had had enough and expelled him.
The reception for former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern at a Fianna Fáil event marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the day after it emerged he has rejoined the party pic.twitter.com/Xxt7pOybAW— Cormac McQuinn (@CormacMcQuinn) February 9, 2023
Last week was all about the Good Friday Agreement with Ahern, though. Talking up his Mr Fixer role in the peace negotiations, Fianna Fáil let him back in. And with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement being marked in the weeks ahead, Fianna Fáil collective amnesia will be suspended for that anniversary, if not for the legacy of its own corruption.
The questions for Fianna Fáil right now are multiple – not least about its ethical memory. We all know that the party is flailing with no obvious leader directing it to better electoral days. It knows that it is going to suffer badly with Fine Gael taking whatever kudos will be given to this Vulture Fund-benefiting coalition. So, it’s trying to sprinkle magic dust on itself with Bertie. Whether the public consider it more like Zyklon-B remains to be seen.
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern says he is happy to be back in the @fiannafailparty Asked if it is a form of political rehabilitation- he says he does not need that. Asked if he would run for the Presidency - he says it is too far away to say @rtenews pic.twitter.com/RfthUoatq3— Paul Cunningham (@RTENewsPaulC) February 9, 2023
Ahern's readmission also speaks to the reluctance of Fianna Fáil to forge a partnership with Sinn Féin. In some respects that was the coalition that always made sense. Irish working-class votes were traditionally Fianna Fáil. Sinn Féin now hold those constituencies and will grow those votes in the next election. For Fianna Fáil, they know the votes to chase will not be enamoured of Fine Gael, yet they do not embrace the directional change required. They love their notions of privilege too much.
'Bringing Back Bertie' is all about Fianna Fáil insecurity and direction deficit. For most of us, though, it is an unwelcome return at a time when we are planning for a new Ireland that leaves that type of gombeen politics behind.
I suspect Fianna Fáil will get their answer to this latest salvo soon enough.