Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has responded to Bertie Ahern’s move to rejoin Fianna Fáil by paying tribute to his work on the peace process while insisting that rejoining the party was an internal Fianna Fáil matter.
Asked about the move by the former taoiseach to rejoin the party, Mr Varadkar said: “I think it’s a matter for Fianna Fáil, I think it’s entirely their decision.”
Mr Varadkar made his comments on his arrival to the summit of 27 European leaders in Brussels on Thursday morning. Mr Ahern applied and was readmitted to Fianna Fáil on Wednesday, a decade after he left in the wake of the Mahon tribunal findings.
[ Miriam Lord: Bertie Ahern is back. What could possibly go wrong? ]
Asked about previous comments, in which he questioned the veracity of Mr Ahern’s evidence to the Mahon tribunal, which was investigating his finances, Mr Varadkar said: “You know, I think that was at a particular point in time. And if you look at the totality of Bertie Ahern’s career, let’s not forget that he was one of the architects of the Good Friday Agreement, and that’s something that we’re going to recognise in a few months’ time, and I don’t think anyone can diminish the role that he played. But he’s a member of Fianna Fáil, it’s a matter for Fianna Fáil.”
Bertie Ahern’s return is par for the course for Fianna Fáil, a party that frequently rejects history
Mr Varadkar said that Mr Ahern “had been in touch from time to time with me down the years in relation to Brexit and in relation to Northern Ireland – just as is the case for any former taoiseach whether it’s Enda Kenny or John Bruton, the advice is always welcome”.
Meanwhile, former Fianna Fáil minister Conor Lenihan has described the return of Mr Ahern to the party as “a very welcome thing”.
“I think, in particular, his skills of organisation, which ultimately, when I was elected in 1997, won us three successive general elections, will also be a huge plus for the party because we really do need people of great wisdom like him advising the party on its electoral and on its candidate strategies and indeed on its policy matters,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.
“Of course there will always be criticism, that is the nature of politics, but I think the most important thing to remember here is whenever I am out and about, he is hugely welcomed and hugely popular still.
“I think there needs to be a distinction made between what we might call opinion as it is expressed online and in media and what the ordinary public think. Anytime I have been out and about with him and meet him socially or otherwise, he is mobbed with people,” Mr Lenihan said.
“People are always more than keen to get up and shake his hand. So, it is a slightly different reality in fact, he is still, in my view, quite popular with the public.”
Mr Lenihan said that Mr Ahern would be an asset to Fianna Fáil in the coming years. The former taoiseach could help revitalise a party that was “clearly at sea at the moment. The party is very much languishing in the opinion polls,” he said.
“It needs to reorganise, rebrand and in fact maybe even change significantly its policies in advance of the next general election, and I think this is a man who has been through all this before and can draw on an awful lot of other people, contacts and friendships he has had over the years, that would help the party,” Mr Lenihan said.
“I would love to see him back in a back-room role helping to reorganise a party that is clearly very tired and struggling while it is fulfilling its important duties in Government.”