Friday 28 October 2016

Andrew Lynch: Bertie's Teflon coating remains intact as he sails through a feeble grilling

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern

"Never thought I'd end up here," was Bertie Ahern's rueful comment when he popped out of a cupboard in that infamous television ad for a now-defunct newspaper.

By the same token, the ex-taoiseach could hardly have imagined that one day he would be hauled in front of an Oireachtas committee to explain his role in Ireland's economic meltdown.

In the end, he sailed through his four-and-a-half hour grilling more or less unscathed - largely because his interrogators had all the cutting-edge qualities of a damp sponge.

The early signs were not encouraging. Bertie's opening statement often felt like the excuse offered by Belfast shipyard workers about the Titanic: "It was fine when it left here."

Eagle-eyed Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty quickly spotted that some of the statement was copied word for word from Ahern's autobiography from 2009.

As the afternoon wore on, however, Bertie's cunning strategy became clear.

Every now and then he threw the inquiry a bone, admitting to spending too much in one budget or not moving fast enough to control the property bubble.

At the same time, he stuck rigidly to his line that the governments he led got a lot more right than wrong.


In other words, Bertie played for a score draw and secured it without much difficulty.

Unlike Brian Cowen or Charlie McCreevy, he was willing to accept a reasonable amount of blame for his mistakes. He then neatly threw Ireland's bankers and regulators under the bus, declaring: "I've taken my hit for the areas that were within my responsibility, but I'm damned if I'm going to take responsibility for something that wasn't."

Although some of Bertie's unfortunate past statements were thrown back in his face, he was more than ready for them.

Asked about his 2006 boast that "the boom is getting boomier", he reeled off the statistics that appeared to back him up.

Reminded of his advice to worried economists, "go off and commit suicide", he apologised again but protested that he was just trying to keep a positive mental attitude.

As for the notorious Galway Races tent, he defended it as "a bit of craic", claimed that some men had met their future wives there - and even rebuked his successor Brian Cowen for tearing it down.

While Bertie has sometimes been accused of having an 'inner gurrier', he was very much on his best behaviour yesterday.

He even had nice words for Enda Kenny, praising the current Taoiseach's "commitment and courage" in cleaning up a mess left behind by Fianna Fail.

He also showed the steel behind his innocent smile, recalling that he "didn't have much competition" at the 2002 General Election, a subtle dig at Michael Noonan who was leading Fine Gael at the time.


In many interviews since leaving office, Bertie has sounded extremely bitter about the decline of his reputation.

There were a few flashes of that yesterday when he spoke of how "I broke my back" working for the country and "God, I took criticism" along the way.

In response to a hostile query from Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy, he unleashed the stinging one-liner: "If hindsight was foresight, then I'd be a billionaire and so would you."

For the most part, however, Bertie kept his cool and bored the inquiry into submission.

He reminded us of the political skill that made him a three-time election winner and caused frustrated opponents to dub him the Teflon Taoiseach.

If he had managed to put such a clever spin on his personal finances, he would probably be president today.

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