Name: Bertie Ahern
Party: Fianna Fáil
Terms: June 1997-May 2008
Bertie Ahern is quite possibly the most hated Taoiseach on this list. Haughey’s been dead long enough that the rage has had time to cool into dispassionate loathing, and DeValera now belongs so totally to the ancient past that hating him is like getting your dander up over the atrocities of Genghis Khan. There’s Kenny, of course, who by now has probably brought more people onto the streets than Public Enemy, but I think Bertie still has him beat in the sheer visceral loathing he incites in many people. For Bertie (and you will never, ever hear him referred to as “Ahern”) this is a hard fall for a man who was once the most popular politician in the country. Irish people tend to view their politicians with a mixture of pity, loathing and withering contempt but people genuinely liked Bertie. He had a cuddly, non-threatening demeanour and a thick, reassuring Northside Dublin accent (Northsiders are well known to be princes among men, and the very salt of the earth). The reality though, was that Bertie was a political animal of the first calibre. His mentor, Charles Haughey, was even quoted as saying “He is the most skilful, the most devious, the most ruthless of them all”.
Bertie assumed leadership of Fianna Fáil after Taoiseach Albert Reynolds had to resign following the Harry Whelehan/Father Brendan Smyth scandal which I’ll be covering later once I’ve gotten some strong liquor into me. Fianna Fáil cruised to victory in the 1997 election on a campaign that that basically consisted of showing pictures of Bertie and saying “LOOK AT HIS FACE! LOOK AT HIS CHUBBY ADORABLE BABY FACE!”
Now the youngest Taoiseach in the country’s history, Bertie had the immense good fortune to come to power just as the Celtic Tiger economy was starting to roar. Property values went through the roof and people were making money hand over fist. I assume. Honestly, I don’t remember much of what happened during those years, none of us do. It was like The Hangover except the tiger was mostly metaphorical (mostly).
What a nation needs in times like that is a leader who’s willing to be the responsible adult, who has the political and moral courage to say “Alright, you’ve had enough. Time to go to bed, you’ve got work tomorrow.” Instead, Bertie was more like Robin Williams’ character in Mrs Doubtfire: “We’re not just going to party! We’re going to have A PETTING ZOO IN THE HOUSE! Who cares about the mess?!
Your mother Fine Gael can clean it up!”
Bertie and his government didn’t heed the warnings that the property market was over-heating because it was very much in their interest (and the interest of their donors in the construction sector) not to listen.
Also, like his mentor Haughey, Bertie seemed to have this weird knack of getting wealthy businessmen to just give him large sums of money for no reason. The Mahon tribunal ruled that Bertie was “not corrupt” but said that they “disbelieved” the explanations he gave for the payments received in the same way that I “disbelieve” my three year old daughter when she tells me that I’m the one who ate all the cookies because there’s only two of us in the house and it obviously couldn’t have been her. Amid a storm of controversy and with the plumes of smoke from his smouldering pantaloons becoming ever more acrid, Bertie Ahern stepped down as Taoiseach in 2008, his unbroken 11 year tenure making him the second longest serving Taoiseach in Irish history (after DeValera). A few months afterward, the economy went kaput, property values plummeted and Ireland lost more wealth than the US did during the Great Depression.
Like Haughey, Bertie was a
crook gentleman of negotiable virtue and like Cowen he bears a great deal of responsibility for the economic crash and its aftermath. Unlike either Haughey or Cowen, however, Bertie did have some real substantive achievements that can’t be ignored which is why he’s only fifth from the bottom (that, and I have constructed a death ray powered by rage-filled comments with which I shall soon rule the world).
- The Peace Process. The big one. Many governments before Bertie’s laid the ground work for the ultimate end of the violence in Northern Ireland but it was Bertie who, along with Hume, Trimble, Blair, Clinton and many others, finally drew the curtain down on one of the most intractable conflicts of the modern era. So yeah. There is that.
- Regarding the crash, Bertie has said that “some gains were lost, but many remain”. Infuriating to those that lost so much but…not exactly inaccurate either. Ireland today is a very, very different place from the country I grow up in in the eighties. Most of that change has been for the better, and much of it occurred during Bertie’s time in power. Does he deserve credit for that? Well, he sure as shit would have gotten blamed for it if it had gone the other way so I say “yes”.
- Personal story. I actually grew up literally down the road from Bertie’s constituency office in Drumcondra. During the 2007 general election, I saw some protestors came walking past his office, one of them wearing a massive Bertie Ahern papier maché head. The real Bertie came out of his office and came face to face with his own grotesquely oversized face, waved politely, got in his car and drove off. I always felt the fact that he didn’t curl into a ball and start wailing like a widow from the sheer bizarre mindfuckery that the universe had thrown at him spoke to his character.
- You mean aside from the corruption and economic crash that has blighted the lives of an entire generation? Lemme think. Oh yeah. During the Iraq War he allowed US military planes to re-fuel at Shannon airport despite the fact that Ireland is militarily neutral and the Irish public overwhelmingly opposed the war. And then later we found out that the CIA had probably been using Shannon for rendition flights to and from torture black spots. Hmm. You know what, I was way too hard on John Costello.