Fianna Fáil WhatsApp groups ‘light up’ on news of Bertie’s return

Party figures privately suggest Bertie Ahern speaks to something dormant within the party - the swagger and capabilities of a formidable political machine

And so, he’s back. The return of Bertie Ahern to Fianna Fáil was greeted with near-universal delight among party sources who spoke to The Irish Times on Wednesday evening. Outwardly, the party argued his return was in the natural order of things - that the passage of time, his expertise on Northern Ireland, his insights into Brexit and loyalism, and his deserved place in the firmament of the Belfast Agreement had prepared the ground.

Ahern has made “an outstanding contribution”, Micheál Martin said in Washington, DC. “I believe significant time has passed and I just think, in the context of that achievement, I would welcome his membership.”

Within the party, it was less nuanced. Party WhatsApp groups “lit up” when the news broke, one source said. “Stories were retold of his legendary knack for understanding what the public wanted.” While that public shied away from Ahern after his political downfall, party figures say he never lost the base, which “will be very happy with (his return)”; it “will be popular within the party and amongst grassroots”, another said.

Speaking privately, party figures suggest Ahern speaks to something dormant within the party - the swagger, instinct and capabilities of a formidable political machine whose electoral successes remain unmatched. His return, one source said, “reminds us of the days when we truly dominated Irish political life”.


Be that as it may, Irish politics is fundamentally different now: Fianna Fáil does not enjoy the support it did in Ahern’s time, nor that of his predecessors. It likely will never again. And, for all he means to the faithful, for many, Ahern will always represent in part at least the politics of the Galway tent and the economic collapse - he will always be stalked by the findings of the Mahon tribunal, which he rejects. Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said it was “outrageous” that Fianna Fáil would admit Ahern back into the party amid the current debate on ethics in public life.

While there is excited chatter of a tilt at the Áras (not a universally popular idea among party sources last night), Fianna Fáil must also prepare to face charges that Ahern’s readmittance marks an embrace of all he represents - good and bad.

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The Taoiseach is in Brussels for a special EU council meeting on Ukraine, migration and other matters, while the Tánaiste will be travelling back from Washington, DC.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, the controversy over nursing home charges and disability allowance payments rumbles on, with statements in the House at 1.45pm. That follows leaders’ questions and oral questions for Heather Humphreys and Norma Foley in the morning and early afternoon. The second stage of legislation governing the wearing of bodycams by gardaí will be taken at 5.15pm. Labour’s motion on emergency housing measures, including the extension of the eviction ban, will follow, before topical issues rounds out the week in the Dáil.

There will be statements in the Seanad on zero tolerance of violence against women at 12.15pm, followed by the second stage of legislation governing what happens in an oil shortage crisis.

The Public Accounts Committee sits at 9.30am, as does the Oireachtas committee on disability matters. Revised estimates continue with Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney before the relevant committee at 5.30pm.