Category: Archive

Echo Editorial: A taoiseach’s troubles

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

When minister for finance in the 1990s, Ahern accepted significant sums of money from acquaintances and strangers, and used the cash for personal expenditure.
His account of himself in the Dail yesterday stretched credibility to breaking point. He insisted the donors never benefited in any way from their generosity; that although he is a trained accountant he didn’t have a bank account at the time; that the larger of the payments was actually a “loan,” even though for 13 years he never made any repayments.
He did say that he now regretted the “misjudgment,” but only after stressing that he had done nothing illegal.
“There are few of us who with the benefit of hindsight would not change some of our past decisions. No one is infallible or perfect,” he mused.
But he seemed unable to grasp that his actions were simply wrong, saying only that if he had anticipated they would cause such difficulties and “media intrusion” for his family, and “distortion” of his motives, he would not have accepted a penny.
The speech, however, was still probably enough to allow him hold onto his job, in the short term.
But is Bertie Ahern’s leadership of Fianna Fail, and the country, now holed below the waterline? Have the party’s backbench TDs — the men and women who will ultimately determine whether or not he stays as leader — mentally moved him from the category of electoral asset to that of electoral liability?
Irish Americans have three very specific concerns about this affair: the international reputation of Ireland; maintaining economic stability and the links between our countries; and the peace process.
In terms of Ireland’s reputation and standing in the world, can there be a less edifying spectacle that that of a minister for finance pocketing the proceeds of a “whip-around” after a soccer game in England?
If there is, then perhaps it’s that of a taoiseach scrambling desperately to retrospectively categorize a gift from a group of businesspeople as a loan.
In most other developed countries, revelations such as these would have led to the leader’s resignation. What message does it send to the world that they are tolerated in Ireland?
It is clear that the Ahern affair has ushered in a period of political instability. In the months ahead there may be a heave against Ahern and an attempt to install the current, and apparently scandal-free, minister for finance, Brian Cowen, as leader.
This volatility, especially in the context of the election due by next June, is not good for the economy. Investors will want to assure themselves that the policies that make Ireland so attractive as a European headquarters would not change under Cowen.
This is also a crucial period for the peace process. The British government is desperate for intransigent unionists to participate in a power-sharing administration in the North, but lacks the courage to make the alternative for unionism worse.
In the weeks ahead, Britain is therefore likely to offer concession after concession to unionism. More than ever, the Irish government needs to focus on ensuring there is real equality in the Northern Ireland.
But now, the election in the Republic promises to be a bitter and all-consuming affair. There is a risk Ahern will place Irish national interests and the rights of our citizens in the North on the back burner.
Viewed from this side of the Atlantic Ocean, this is the wrong time for an extended crisis.

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