Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

“Bertie”

Are they watching “Bertie” up in Fagan’s, the pub that’s a hop, skip and jump across the road from Bertie Ahern’s stronghold in downtown Drumcondra? Perhaps they’re tuning into “Katherine Lynch’s Wonderwomen” (though, on second thoughts, there doesn’t appear to …

Tue, Nov 11, 2008, 10:00

   

Are they watching “Bertie” up in Fagan’s, the pub that’s a hop, skip and jump across the road from Bertie Ahern’s stronghold in downtown Drumcondra? Perhaps they’re tuning into “Katherine Lynch’s Wonderwomen” (though, on second thoughts, there doesn’t appear to be much room for any females in their world – and the programme is horrendous and unwatchable anyway) or “The Apprentice” instead. If they are watching “Bertie”, the four-part series on the lives, times and hairstyles of the ex-taoiseach, I wonder if there is much squirming going on as the story unfolds.

I doubt it. Ahern’s kitchen cabinet, close advisors, assorted drinking buddies, ward bosses, jobbing builders and fellas willing to cough up a big wad of cash to get close to the action don’t appear to do squirming. It’s not in their genetic make-up. Instead, they’re probably lapping it all up and slagging each other to beat the band. They were happy to sit back and explain at great length to Steve Carson’s cameras how they got their man into the taoiseach’s office. They’re proud of what they did and how they did it and they’re happy to flex their muscles retrospectively for the gaiety of the nation.

In political machine terms, their achivement was immense. They took a young callow buck from the streets of Dublin 9 and helped him get into the most powerful political office in the land. He had to ditch the anorak – “car coat”, as PJ Mara maintains Ahern called it – and get a decent haircut, but he got there in the end. Every politican out there would love to have a mafia like that to keep an eye on their back and keep the home base happy while they were off seeing to matters of state and driving around in a Merc. Sadly, the programme didn’t ask these well-upholstered, grand gentlemen what they got out of all those late nights tending to Ahern’s patch, but I suppose they got a few pints and a box of biscuits from a grateful Ahern at the Christmas.

It is usually the case with political docs of this ilk that the subject has rolled away from the limelight and is now happy to tell his or her story a couple of years after the fact just as the history books are about to be written. With Ahern, it’s more current affairs than history – he was still in the taoiseach’s hot-seat up to a few month’s ago lest we forget, while he is still trying to explain those dig-outs and large cash transactions which dogged his last couple of years in office.

It makes you wonder then why Ahern decided to co-operate so closely with the programme-makers. He surely knew that every explanation he had to offer about his troubles with cash would be rebuffed and questioned closely by various hard-nosed pundits (Matt Cooper and Colm Keena, in this case). Whatever shine he can put on his career and various achievements will always – always – be undone by those dodgy envelopes changing hands in pubs. Even the recreation of those exchanges for the cameras looked dodgy, while the explanations by various benefactors are still not convincing.

One possible reason for Ahern speaking to the cameras about his troubles is that this is the opening move by him in the 2011 race for the Aras. Yes, yes, he has always maintained that he’s not interested in that job or the big house in the Park, but Ahern, like all politicians, didn’t get where he is today without saying one thing and doing something else many, many times. The programme has allowed him show his Republican colours (he said in the first episode that he was in the crowd when the British Embassy in Dublin was torched in 1972) and the shows to come will replay his role in the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. He knew that the series was going ahead with or without his co-operation so his involvement is a bit of a pre-emptive strike, a chance to clear the air, give his side of the story and remind the Irish people that there were always good times when he was in charge. By the time 2011 rolls around, there may well be many more people who agree with that one.

Of course, there are plenty of obstacles facing an Ahern run for the Aras, not least Brian Cowen deciding the time has come for some retribution. It would be more than just history repeating itself if the Offalyman decided to do to Ahern what Ahern did to Albert Reynolds when it came time for Fianna Fail to nominate a candidate for the last Presidental election in 1997. Now there’s something for the Drumcondra mafia to ponder over their pints as they decide what’s next for their boy.

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