Bertie’s ‘legacy’ is as good as his fashion sense – rotten

Sunday Tribune August 2

I have an admission to make. It’s not pleasant, so prepare yourself. I once… God, this isn’t easy… I once owned a pair of… white shoes. And an electric-blue Miami Vice jacket, white baggies and a canary yellow polo shirt with matching tie. I also had a mullet. I never wore white socks though – I swear it. Sorry if the image is putting you off your brunch.
I used to wear the jacket’s sleeves rolled up. I had to: I bought it for £19.99 in Unique Boutique and in my hurry to leave before anyone I knew saw me being such a cheapskate, I grabbed a size three times too big for me. Still, I thought the huge shoulder pads made me look manly. My dad said they made me look like Joan Collins dressed as a rent boy. The jacket ended up in the cat basket after that.
I was reminded of my fashion unconsciousness last week when I saw pictures of Bertie Ahern at the Galway Races. Bertie, one expert wrote, broke the cardinal rule of not wearing navy with black.
He was a right mess: navy jacket, striped shirt and tie – clashing so badly they nearly gave me an epileptic fit – and black trousers. Bertie looked like the kind of man who tucks his shirt into his underpants and wears his socks in bed. Not that I ever want to find out.
When Garret FitzGerald wore odd socks it suggested he was too busy juggling matters of state to notice. Bertie can’t claim the same excuse. He hasn’t much to worry about as he’s on holidays until September. Not that he’s been too busy at work. In his first year as ex-taoiseach, Bertie missed 85% of Dáil votes. He didn’t even attend for a vote on the bank bailout.
The main thing on Bertie’s mind last week was the demise of the Fianna Fáil tent at Galway Races. “Some of the flak it got over the years was a bit unfair,” he said, “but it never worried me.”
Nothing ever worries Bertie. Nothing: like the intake of breath when he told the planning tribunal he had won sums of mysterious money on the gee-gees.
Nothing: like the economy he helped wreck through his profligacy. The economy that last week pinned its hopes on Nama, set up to bail out his developer friends and rescue deals struck over pints in that same Fianna Fáil tent.
He’s not worried about the Commission on Taxation either, as it prepares to recommend introducing a property tax. He can afford it – unlike the 78 families whose homes were listed for repossession in court last Monday. The government is going to tax the house Bertie encouraged you to buy, as you struggle to hold on to it.
As he checked the form last week, Bertie was probably glad he no longer has a garda minder. He wouldn’t have been able to concentrate, with him moaning about his pension.
The gardaí last week legally challenged the levy on their sweet-deal pension. If they succeed, more public-sector challenges will follow. If only Bertie hadn’t over-inflated the public sector. Never mind, spotted any ‘bankers’ on the card, Bertie?
Bankers? Last Monday, Permanent TSB raised its rates. Bertie’s colleague, Brian Lenihan, said he wouldn’t intervene. He gave PTSB a state guarantee and now it’s giving him the finger. Didn’t you promote him to cabinet, Bertie? Good judge of form, there.
It’s enough to make you sick – if you can afford to be sick. The HSE last week published a list of chemists who won’t ‘strike’ over the Drugs Payment Scheme row. Typically, the list was wrong and included one pharmacy which closed three months ago. Wasn’t the HSE put under starter’s orders by your government, Bertie?
While Ahern was at the races, the fall-out continued from his 2002 deal capping the church’s liability over child-abuse payments. Last week, the state was still waiting for a statement of assets from one of the 18 orders named in the Ryan report. Presumably, it will pass the post some day soon, Bertie.
Some people like to blindly stick a pin into the racing pages when choosing a runner. You could have stuck one anywhere in the paper last week and skewered a piece of Bertie’s ‘legacy’. Or a picture of him: smug, laughing. Funny Bertie. As funny as a hernia. Bertie Ahernia.
Ahernia used to spend thousands on make-up, but his dress sense on Tuesday suggests he couldn’t be bothered keeping up appearances any more. The real Bertie is resurfacing, as shabby as his ‘legacy’.
Not that he sees it as shabby. The Washington Speakers Bureau describes him as having “brought economic prosperity, peace and political prominence… creating a progressive strategy and blueprint for other countries of the world to follow”. Who wrote that CV?
I suspect I wasn’t the only person watching Bertie acting the retired champion last week and wishing he was finally put out to grass.
When he said he never worried about flak taken over the Fianna Fáil tent, I happily imagined him being boiled down for glue.
The FF tent is gone but, like the odour of stale horse manure, Bertie lingers on.
Roll up your tent and take a hike, Ahern. You’re not at the races any more.

August 2, 2009

A gag that’s not funny… and is a threat to democracy

Sunday Tribune, April 5

Picture this: Bertie Ahern picks up the Sunday Tribune, sees a portrait of himself in the nude on page one and immediately despatches his art dealer with a brown envelope to buy it. Bertie doesn’t want an unflattering picture of himself in the public domain. The only aras he wants the public to connect him with is the one in the Park.
Plausible? Highly. True? Unfortunately not. The preceding scenario formed a newspaper’s April Fool’s gag last week and I’m not ashamed to admit that I fell for it. That’s the thing about Bertie – you wouldn’t put anything past him. For a man who loves the limelight, he’s fiercely protective of his privacy. He doesn’t like the papers showing him up. That is probably why, under his stewardship, the VAT on newspapers rose to 13.5% – the highest in Europe (Britain has zero VAT). It probably also explains why his administration published a Privacy Bill in 2006 to curb the power of the press. Naughty press, Fianna Fáil will learn youse.
That bill was subsequently ‘parked’ to give the now year-old Press Council time to prove itself effective at dealing with media complaints. Last week, another Ahern – Dermot – announced that he is going to introduce the legislation. Why? Because “there seems to be a growing disregard for the privacy of the individual”. Note the word “seems”. According to who? Who has been calling for a privacy law? Was it Dermot Ahern himself?
Ahern knows the value of privacy. For example, the equality minister now knows it’s better to keep his views on homosexuals private. Back in 1993 he agreed with Fine Gael’s Brendan McGahon that gays were deviants. Once the press highlighted this, he was branded homophobic.
His dealings with the family of terror chief Michael McKevitt might have been kept private if the press hadn’t reported that he forwarded an email on his behalf to Michael McDowell. The press hasn’t done Ahern any favours. Could this be personal?
The new law forbids “surveillance”, “stalking/harassment” and “disclosure of documentation” – all legitimate weapons in the journalist’s armoury. Documents that can’t be published will include publicly available material from, among others, county council planning files and the Land Registry Office. Without the disclosure of such documents, the extent of planning corruption in north Dublin may never have come to light.
Without “stalking”, the documentary that led to the beef tribunal might not have been made. In that programme, journalist Susan O’Keeffe approaches beef baron Larry Goodman for a comment as he is leaving mass and pursues him until he drives off. Under the new rules, Goodman could have got an injunction and halted production. Similarily, Brendan O’Brien’s legendary “stalking” of Martin ‘The General’ Cahill might not have been aired. The print labours of Veronica Guerin would have been hampered too.
With the new restrictions, Seanie Fitz might be able to get an injunction against a newspaper revealing that he’s enjoying a nice holiday in Spain.
The new law states that invasions of privacy are justified when they’re in good faith, the public interest and fair. Sounds reasonable? It isn’t. It’s ‘Catch 22’: for an invasion of privacy to be justified, you must invade someone’s privacy to prove it. However, you can’t invade someone’s privacy because that’s not justified without proof. A reporter who is stymied by an injunction can be found to have broken the rules just because he was unable to finish his investigation.
So, again, who has asked for this privacy law? Take a guess. Last year, Dublin City University released a study which revealed that two-thirds of all privacy complaints over the past 25 years had come from public figures, chiefly politicians.
The hypocrisy at the heart of this law is staggering. In February, minister Ahern was forced to introduce new European legislation requiring telephone operators to store details of all calls made for two years. Under Irish law, they had to store them for three years. All your calls, emails and internet usage are logged by the government. How about a privacy law against that?
Ahern’s announcement last week was all the more telling because of its timing. It came just weeks after this newspaper broke the Brian Cowen portraits story. This was a clear threat to the press. It was a slap on the wrist for getting uppity and a direct attack on the fundamental right to freedom of information.
We don’t need this law. The press ombudsman is doing a good job of correcting rogue journalism. It’s independent, fast and binding. As it’s free, the public aren’t put off complaining by legal costs. That’s good for democracy, unlike privacy laws and VAT on newspapers.
This brings us back to Bertie, as it was his administration that dreamed up this nonsense. When I read the April Fool’s portrait gag about him last week, it struck me that the words ‘Ahern’ and ‘gag’ were entirely appropriate given the decision to silence the press.
Forget about Cowen: Bertie deserves to be hung in the National Gallery.
I’ll start building the scaffold…