Andrew Lynch: Bertie needs to come out of cupboard and live in the real world
Is Bertie Ahern still living in the same world as the rest of us? In an interview with a Polish newspaper earlier this week, the ex-Taoiseach admitted that he only has himself to blame for not keeping tighter control over Ireland's financial institutions.
He then went on to claim that he could be the next President. Now he says that he cannot give up his Mercedes because, for some unspecified reason, a less expensive state car would put his personal security at risk.
Ever since he popped out of a cupboard in that spectacularly tasteless television ad, it's been clear that Bertie's judgment is not exactly in good shape these days. To be fair to him, however, he's hardly the only senior politician who seems to be completely out of touch with the public mood.
The government's pre-Budget manoeuvrings have displayed all the sensitivity of a Wayne Rooney chat-up line -- and if this is a sign of what we can expect on December 7, then we could face the nightmare prospect of TDs fighting a general election in the middle of the Christmas season.
It all got off to a bad start this week when the cabinet held their two-day Budget talks in the palatial surroundings of Farmleigh House, rolling up the driveway in their ministerial Mercs to discuss how they could squeeze a few more quid out of the poorest members of society. As the public have made abundantly clear over the airwaves, the resulting television pictures looked downright awful.
Since then, we've had the depressing spectacle of a Dail debate on the economy in which Brian Cowen listlessly read out a script that contained so little detail, it could have been delivered almost word-for-word in 2008.
Meanwhile, this newspaper's revelation that the government is thinking of cutting both the old age pension and unemployment benefit has made a group of Fianna Fail backbenchers seriously upset. Led by the feisty veteran Mary O'Rourke, they have publicly warned Cowen that any Taoiseach who introduces such savage measures can no longer count on their support.
They also make the telling point that the elderly have traditionally voted for FF in big numbers -- and if those people see their benefits reduced for the first time since the 1920s, they will wreak a terrible revenge at the ballot box.
Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, recently summed up the dilemma that faces so many governments these days, including our own. "We know what to do," he said. "We just don't know how to get re-elected after we've done it."
Brian Lenihan is now caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, with the financial markets urging him to plunge the knife in and his own colleagues running scared of what that might do to their electoral chances. It's a lonely position to be in and nobody could envy him. However, the Minister for Finance needs to keep one thing in mind above all -- if this Budget is seen as being fundamentally unfair, then it will not pass through the Dail and the last few weeks will have been a monumental waste of time.
The country may be depressed over going broke, but that depression is mitigated by the anger we all feel at having to pay for the mistakes of politicians, developers and bankers.
If those people were seen to be taking their fair share of pain, the public might not feel so bad about our own financial sacrifices.
Instead our ministers are still among the most highly paid in the world, Nama is paying salaries of up to €200,000 to bankrupt builders and the €50bn bank bailout has allowed disgraced financiers to sail off into the sunset with gold- plated pensions.
Brian Lenihan once claimed that his father had taught him to always look after "the little people". Over the next few weeks, the minister needs to prove that he meant it -- because otherwise, to paraphrase Albert Reynolds, it will be the little people who trip him up.