BERTIE Ahern is ‘back in the fold’ at Fianna Fáil. And not only was he allowed to return to the party, but he got a standing ovation at a meeting in a Ballsbridge hotel last week.
That’s an interesting turnaround for the man who was once seen as the bete noir of the party, one that they couldn’t turn their backs on fast enough.
It seems absence most definitely does make the heart grow fonder, when it comes to Irish politicians.
Didn’t former junior minister Damien English – who resigned over being a bit economical with the truth to his local planning authority – and embattled minister Paschal Donohoe, both get big rounds of applause when they subsequently turned up at a Fine Gael party meeting last month?
And now Fianna Fáil have their own ‘bad boy’ back and doing the rounds.
When asked about his political legacy, Mr Ahern was quick to emphasise – and dwell – on his work on Northern Ireland, and remind journalists that he was still involved in helping out our northern brethren during their current crises.
But there are many voters who will remember that another former FF Taoiseach, the late Albert Reynolds, got the Northern peace talks ball ‘rolling’ so to speak, long before his party colleague.
And there are also many voters who remember Bertie’s ‘foot-in-mouth’ disease of not always engaging his brain before talking.
For example, that time, in 2007, when he was forced to apologise for his shocking comments that he didn’t understand how people who engaged in moaning about the economy didn’t ‘commit suicide’.
Or, in 2018, when he took off his microphone and walked out of a German TV studio when the words ‘impropriety’ and ‘economic crash’ were used by the interviewer.
Or the findings of the 15-year Mahon Tribunal that Ahern had failed to ‘truthfully account’ for the sources of money he received while finance minister.
It is no wonder, then, that the former Taoiseach is so keen to emphasise his role in Northern Ireland’s peace process – the one truly shining light in a chequered political history.
And yet Fianna Fáil now believes the time is right to bring him back in from the cold. This, at a time when the major parties are fighting hard to maintain a relevance to a younger electorate.
And just days after the most recent opinion poll saw Fianna Fáil drop 1pc to a pretty paltry 16% approval rating, with Fine Gael on 25% and Sinn Féin on 32% (Source: Sunday Independent / Ireland Thinks).
It is very difficult for the general public to understand the strategy behind this move by the party.
It is hard not to see it as anything other than a cynical ‘testing of the water’ with one eye on the upcoming presidential campaign.
But the Irish electorate – as various referenda have shown – have matured and become far more discerning than voters in Bertie Ahern’s heyday.
The undeniable popularity of our current president Michael D Higgins – coming in the wake of two very formidable female presidents in Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson – is surely evidence enough of how seriously the Irish voter takes the role in the Áras.
Younger voters who have become suspicious of politicians’ agendas due to the seemingly never-ending housing, health and homelessness crises, are not going to be drawn to the likes of Bertie Ahern. Older voters, who remember the various faux pas of the former Taoiseach, (and not least of all his whining that his biggest regret leaving office – as the country suffered the horrors of the economic crash – was that he hadn’t managed to get the ‘Bertie Bowl’ national stadium across the line), won’t be running to install him in the Phoenix Park either, one would imagine.
If the party insists on running him in that campaign, it could prove an even bigger mistake than welcoming him back in the first place.
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