How would Bertie have coped?
Bertie Ahern broke his leg yesterday. It could have been worse: he could have ended up having his reputation shattered into smithereens like Brian Cowen did.
The former Taoiseach’s mí-ádh brought him back to public attention and prompted questions about how he would have weathered this particular storm. Over the weekend, his brother Maurice made an intervention saying that the Anorak’s political smarts were such that he would never have allowed the medical card measure through in that form.
When Bertie Ahern finally called it a day, we all thought that time had caught up on him, that he went because he had to go, not at a time of his own choosing. But any thoughts that his career may have ended in failure (even with a small ‘f’) have now been diluted. God, another stroke by the Teflon Taoiseach. Now we know that he didn’t ditch but that he got out at the last station before the train ran out of track.
Now the picture has become clearer. Bertie Ahern, to use hurling analogy, hurled a hospital pass in Brian Cowen’s direction before leaving the field of play. Cowen has shouldered all the blame for the economic woes while Ahern has been (miraculously) left relatively unscathed by it. Given that he presided over the boom, it’s difficult to know how the Anorak would have dealt with the horrible mess confronting Cowen.
It’s certain that he would have had the antennae up in relation to the medical cards and would have softened the income levy at the edges.
But he have been prepared to take out the scalpel and inflict painful but necessary surgery. With a politician who built his entire career on the back of consensus and path-seeking, you find it hard to imagine that he would be prepared to display such public ruthlessness (though in private, he could be – and had to be – ruthless as all political leaders do).
Joe Behan’s resignation was a once-off. But what also became evident is that there is a disaffected rump in Fianna Fail, comprised of those who have not done well from Cowen either through demotion or failure to win promotion. The complexion of the game has changed completely in less than six months he has been in the hot seat.
The Greens didn’t cover themselves in glory. They waded into the controversy very late in the day on Friday. It is true that some of their backbenchers – and Ciaran Cuffe is the one that comes to mind – were deeply disturbed and unhappy about the medical card measure. But the Greens displayed more loyalty than your average Fianna Fail backbencher. For them, as Mary White said, this was never a pulling-out-of-Government issue.
Imagine our surprise then at her amazing interview with her local radio station in Carlow Kilkenny yesterday when she said that the Greens had threatened to pull out of Government, absolutely. When asked by the interviewer did the Greens make this threat directly, she made a reference to the backchannels hissing with concern and worries. In other words, the Greeens had threatened to pull out of Government but had not really told anyone in Fianna Fail that they were threatening to pull out of Government.
The party didn’t come out of this well. If they are going to last the course in this adminstration, they are going to have to get more awkward with their FF colleagues on the environment and also show the public out there that they more colours in their palette than just green.
What else? The mercury will fall a little today but the heat will still be uncomfortable for Government. Fine Gael and Labour will now move on and find a fresh line of attack on school sizes. The march by pensioners this morning will not have the same impact now there is a compromise in place but will be another painful reminder of the Government’s folly.
As will the vote on the Fine Gael motion on medical cards. Those weekly six-hour debates on topical issus, that alternate between parties, sometimes seem like a waste of time. But they can prove a very useful tool when the party cleverly chimes them in with the big controversy of the day. Labour’s motion for next week – unsurprisingly – is on class sizes.
Yep, living in interesting times. But that’s a Chinese curse, isn’t it.