Almighty bore as Bertie goes underground

 

Conventional political wisdom has it that when you're in a hole you should stop digging. Not for the first time, however, Bertie Ahern has rewritten the rules. Clearly oozing confidence about the election, he stood in the largest hole in Dublin yesterday and formally started one the biggest digging operations the country has yet seen.

The event was a new low in Irish politics, taking place about 100 feet under Whitehall. There was the added risk for the Taoiseach that it required him to pose beside something called the Dublin Port Tunnel boring machine, which is expected to bore the city 16 hours a day for the next 2½ years.

But there were also big plus factors for Mr Ahern as he donned his hard hat and safety boots. For one thing, the port tunnel's "launch pit" is the Fianna Fáil election slogan come to life. Nothing says "a lot done, more to do" quite like a cavern 56.5 metres wide, 30 metres deep, and containing 1,600 tonnes of drilling machinery.

That the tunnelling contract went to a Japanese-led consortium was a bonus. On the day Mick McCarthy announced his squad for Japan and Korea, here was an event featuring women in kimonos, sushi, and a "sake barrel ceremony". Mr Ahern was 100 feet deep in feel-good factor, just as he is hoping the electorate will hand him the No 1 jersey again.

Not everybody was feeling good, however. No sooner had he arrived than Mr Ahern was tackled by a spokesman for the Marino Residents' Action Group, who called him an "utter disgrace" for inflicting such disruption on the locals. A local himself, the Taoiseach brushed the criticism aside, but it must have been a relief to leave the surface of the northside for a few minutes, and descend into the bowels of the earth.

The launch pit looks like the set of a James Bond movie, the sort of place from which an evil genius might blow up the world. When the Taoiseach stood grinning with his hand on the starting lever, he nearly looked the part too. But then he ruined the effect by explaining how the machine, named "Gráinne", would help fulfil his vision of Dublin as a modern, efficient city.

Gráinne will move forward at a rate of 10 metres a day, somewhat slower than the Taoiseach has been averaging lately. Indeed, his tunnel vision delivered, Mr Ahern said a quick "sayonara" and left for a lightning tour of the west midlands.