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Thursday 14 December 2017

Andrew Lynch: For a man who's not interested in money, Bertie's doing alright

Bertie Ahern's supposedly modest lifestyle has always been part of his political brand.

"I'm not interested in wealth," he scoffed to his biographers Ken Whelan and Eugene Masterson back in 1997.

"Anyone who knows me knows this is true... I associate wealth with trouble and I don't really need that. Once I can have a few jars, talk to the guys, go down to Tolka and Croker: that makes me happy."

That's why the news that our former Taoiseach has used the past two years to make himself a seriously wealthy man may not be an entirely unmixed blessing.

With money pouring in from all quarters, Bertie will certainly be able to get by without any more whip-arounds from friends in the near future.

But the most cunning and devious of them all must also realise that the richer he becomes, the harder it will be for him to protect his cherished image as a true man of the people -- and that's a real problem when you still hold serious ambitions of becoming the next president of Ireland.

Even at the height of the Celtic Tiger, which he created or destroyed or both according to your particular point of view, Bertie's ability to pick up nixers would be highly impressive.

The Dail register of interests reveals that he earned around €145,000 last year from a mere five speaking engagements, which is some going for a man whose inability to string two sentences together was once a national joke.



exemption

This is in addition to his half-rate Taoiseach's pension of €55,000, his salary of around €100,000 as a backbench TD, his fee for writing a newspaper sports column and the earnings from his recent autobiography -- which, of course, were tax-free under the artists' exemption.

One of the strange facts of life is that the wealthier a man like Bertie gets, the harder it is for him to put his hand in his pocket.

Last March, for example, the FAI picked up the tab when he travelled to Bari to watch Ireland's World Cup qualifier against Italy.

And just to confirm that when your luck's in, it's really in, he landed €10,000 a few weeks ago in a raffle draw for Whitehall Rangers soccer club at the Beaumont House pub.

Of course, Bertie would point out that he's still only in the ha'penny place compared to some of his old friends.

Bill Clinton can apparently command around $150,000 (€109,600) for a single speech, while Tony Blair has signed a book deal worth £5m (€3.6m) for his memoirs.

Even so, it's fair to assume that our former leader is on pretty good terms with his bank manager these days -- unless, of course, he's still keeping it all in a biscuit tin under the bed as he did during his time as Minister for Finance.

If Bertie was genuinely retired from frontline politics, of course, he'd be laughing all the way to that bank.

His problem is that since he still nurses ambitions to return in triumph, he really can't be seen to be enjoying that jet-set lifestyle too much.

In an interview with this newspaper last year, he admitted that he believes there's one big job left in him -- and, according to those who know him best, that means being the president who takes the salute outside the GPO at the 100th anniversary of the Easter Rising in 2016.

Right now, that looks like a crazy dream Bertie would be well advised to abandon.



battering

His reputation has taken an almighty battering over the past 18 months, as it has become obvious that decisions taken on his watch were at least responsible for creating our economic woes. If he couldn't even get his own brother elected in Drumcondra, it's hard to see how he can get himself elected to Aras an Uachtarain.

Bertie Ahern is a seriously wealthy man -- and a seriously lucky one too. He should think long and hard before deciding to push that luck again.

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