herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: Bertie drove us into this mess, now he can bloody well drive himself around

Bertie Ahern does not have a valid driver's licence.

Back in 2003, when he was still Taoiseach and the country seemed to be motoring along nicely, he casually admitted that he had learned to drive as a young man but allowed his licence to lapse after he rose up the political ladder and got used to being chauffeured around.

Since ex-Taoisigh are provided with a State car and driver for life, he must have assumed he would never have to get behind the wheel again.

If Fine Gael have their way, however, Bertie will either have to swot up on the new theory test or get himself a bus timetable.



LUXURY

The party's transport spokes-man Simon Coveney has pledged that if they're returned to power, he will slash the cost of ministerial Mercs and force politicians to share some of the public's pain.

As Bertie says in that infamous television ad, "I never thought I'd end up here" -- but with his reputation at an all-time low, he's really not in a position to complain.

Giving luxury cars to former ministers is a scheme that's both ridiculously wasteful and completely out of date.

It might have had some validity in the Seventies and Eighties, when the Troubles were at their height and there were fears that politicians could be a target for Loyalist nutters.

In this day and age, however, there is no excuse for asking taxpayers to provide them with a round-the-clock chauffeur service -- especially when their handsome pensions mean most of them will never have to work again.

It doesn't come cheap, either.

The latest figures show that the cost for the last two years came to just under €11m, most of it going to pay the 54 Garda Protection Officers whose job it is to be on permanent stand-by.

At a time when there is an urgent need for a more visible police presence on the streets, it is hard to argue that these people's talents could not be put to better use.

Despite Bertie's self-styled image as a man of the people, the evidence suggests that he has abused this privilege more than any of his predecessors.

Last year, his State car must have racked up plenty of mileage as it transported him to multiple signings of his autobiography, for which he reportedly earned an advance of €400,000 and has paid no tax thanks to the artists' exemption scheme.



DEMEANING

We can also assume that he did not get a taxi to the house where he took up residence in a cupboard, probably the most demeaning moment in the history of the Taoiseach's office.

In Britain, prime minister David Cameron has ordered his ministers to show an example by getting the Tube whenever possible.

A similar request from Brian Cowen might be a small gesture, but it would at least show that politicians here do no not live on a completely different planet from the rest of us.

The former Minister for Agriculture, Joe Walsh, once gave a touching interview about the challenges facing ex-politicians as they returned to civilian life.

At Dublin Airport, he discovered for the first time that there were such nasty things as queues, check-in desks and boarding gates.

When he got into the back of a car, he could not understand why it didn't drive off straightaway.

Sadly, Bertie Ahern now gives the impression that he is equally divorced from reality.

He is still giving interviews in which he refuses to take any responsibility for our economic nightmare, claiming that nobody ever told him anything was wrong until it was too late.



CUPBOARD

He also seems to genuinely believe that he can be elected president next year, when everybody else knows that the door to the Aras shut as soon as the cupboard door opened.

Bertie Ahern has driven this country to the brink of bankruptcy.

The least he could do is offer to pay his own way from now on.

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