Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Year That Was.......

Former Taoiseach and Ireland's favourite northsider Bertie Ahern put Tina Turner and Luciano Pavarotti to shame this year - by staging the longest career goodbye ever seen in Ireland.

Thanks to the Mahon Tribunal, Bertie Ahern had been walking on a tightrope for some time and it was a case of 'when' rather than 'if' he would bow out of politics.

The spectacle of seeing the Taoiseach of Ireland being probed by senior lawyers about his personal finances as far back as 20 years ago became too much for his colleagues in Fianna Fail and for the Irish people in general.

Love him or loath him - his credibility was quickly eroding and he was taking the Fianna Fail party down with him.

But it was only after his former secretary Grainne Carruth was forced to tears in the witness box at the Mahon Tribunal that Bertie did the honourable thing and stood down.

While this move was expected, in true Bertie style he stunned everyone with his shock announcement that he was going.

So at a hastily arranged press conference on the morning of April 2 last, Mr Ahern announced that he would step down from the office of Taoiseach and as leader of Fianna Fail on May 6.

And so came the long goodbye. Tributes flooded in from political heavyweights such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. His achievements and failures in politics were the subject of post mortems in newspapers, on radio waves, on TV and in pubs throughout the country.

The lap of honour spread from his constituency in Drumcondra to the US Congress where he gave his historic speech to the Joint Houses on April 30.

While all this was going on, his heir apparent - Brian Cowen - was waiting in the wings preparing to take over.

It was a seamless and trouble-free transition - nobody else in the party launched a campaign against Cowen, though some may have liked the opportunity to do so.

Cowen's ascension into office was also a lavish affair - parties in Dublin, parties in Clara, parties in Tullamore. But the one party that was suffering through all of this was the Fianna Fail party.

The long goodbye and the heaving hello by Bertie and Brian was taking place at a time when the party's attention should have been focused on getting the Lisbon Treaty passed.

Because of all the celebrations and commiserations, the Government was late off the blocks in campaigning for a Yes vote. Fine Gael and Labour stole the march yet were treated with arrogant condescension any time they accused the Government of not pulling their weight.

It was a confused campaign. The Yes side was on the defensive all of the time, thanks in no small way to Libertas' mysterious leader Declan Ganley.

Ganley led the No campaign and led the agenda on Lisbon - all the Government could do was respond to their allegations.

Many believe that the Government itself was responsible for the No vote in the Lisbon referendum - they had bigger fish to fry at the time making sure that the Ahern/Cowen transition was seamless.

Bertie Ahern was at the helm as Ireland enjoyed the excesses of the Celtic Tiger economy. He was at the helm when property developers were bathing in more money than they could ever dream of.

But now the hangover has been left to Brian Cowen to deal with.

As Ollie Hardy said to Stan Laurel, so said Brian Cowen to Bertie Ahern - 'well here's another nice mess you've gotten me into'.

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