HAVING been questioned on TV about the Mahon Tribunal, Don Berto became something of an international media sensation when he walked off a recent German talkshow.
The presenter was Tim ‘Let Me Finish My Sentence’ Sebastian, who’s famous for his hard-hitting questioning technique. Ironically, Bertie Ahern’s abrupt ending of his TV interrogation was not too dissimilar to the reaction of the wife of Slobadan Milosevic who also walked out before the end of an interview with Mr Sebastian. She too was outraged at the questions the twice-winning Interviewer of the Year was throwing at her.
But what got up the nostrils of our former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach was the sudden switch from a harmless discussion on the Good Friday Agreement to scrutiny of his involvement in the Mahon Tribunal which, as most of us remember, was an investigation into allegations of corrupt payments to politicians regarding political decisions.
Although the Tribunal did not make any findings of corruption against Ahern, its report was damaging to his reputation. The interviewer, Tim Sebastian, persisted in referring to Tribunal allegations relating to Ahern when he was Finance Minister, and to promises he had made about ‘clearing his name.’
Asked by Sebastian if, in fact, he had cleared his name, Don Berto answered: ‘Yes, I did. I’m quite happy I cleared my name.’
A gigantic huff
Sebastian commented that the Tribunal never reversed its decision, to which Ahern answered that ‘The tribunal gave its views … and I gave my evidence. I was very happy with my evidence.’
The interrogation of Don Berto did not cease at that point and the visibly annoyed ex-Taoiseach stated that he had dealt with all ‘those issues’ and did not intend to revisit them. Immediately after that, Bertie’s patience snapped. He said: ‘I agreed to meet you on the Good Friday Agreement, we’ve done that so we’re finished. Thank you very much.’
He then rose from his chair, yanked the mike from his chest and stormed out in a gigantic huff.
Needless to say, the response among the Soldiers of Destiny was predictable. Outrage! Their one time leader and, let’s not forget, a possible candidate for the presidency of Ireland, had been led down the garden path with bland questions before being ‘bushwhacked’ in relation to the controversial topic of corruption and Fianna Fáil – which, after all, belonged to a different era.
They had thought the Mahon Tribunal was long dead and its corpse swept judiciously under the carpet. What’s more, the Soldiers of Destiny believed that by having a squeaky-clean leader, Mickey Martin, the future of the party was in safe hands Martin, of course, was a full-blown cabinet minister on four occasions between 1997 and 2011, and a close confidant of Bertie Ahern.
Under Mickey’s leadership, Fianna Fáil managed to convince the punters that the past was the past, an approach to contemporary politics with which the Irish ‘meeja’ had no problems. Consequently, in light of Tim Sebastian’s badgering of Mr Bertie, it seemed contrary to a sense of fairness that the foreign ‘meeja’ could not accept the fact that Fianna Fáil had turned over a new leaf!
Soldiers of Destiny, you see, are rather sensitive beings, very much in touch with their emotions, and to have Don Berto’s illustrious career disparaged by unmerited and damn awkward questions and insinuations was … well … infuriating! What’s more, as with the former Taoiseach’s response, they too resented the interviewer’s lack of judgement.
Rank and file members suddenly found themselves inhabiting the top of the high moral ground, full of what might best be described as righteous indignation – a reactive emotion of anger and injustice because of the way the questioner-fella lacked courteous respect for a truly great leader and the wonderful, wonderful, political party that he once led!
Clearly Tim Sebastian did not appreciate Fianna Fáil’s achievements: the Good Friday Agreement, Eternal Peace in the North, a world class education system in the South, Women’s Rights, a fantastic corporate tax regime, the Triple Crown, bicycle lanes and, of course, integrity, honesty and decency in politics!
So here’s a question for the inquiring inquisitor: on the assumption they were still alive, would Mr Sebastian have treated Margaret Thatcher, Joseph Stalin or Al Capone in the same way that he treated our Taoiseach emeritus? After all, to ask Don Berto if he had cleared his name seemed to suggest that it might be possible that he hadn’t!
Certainly, the respectable element of the Irish media would never have poked its nose into Bertie’s private life, as Mr Sebastian did. Perhaps the Englishman didn’t understand the way Irish politics works and that it is quite impossible to make a distinction between good and bad, and between right and wrong, in the area of political conduct.
What’s more, the public knows full well that our big knobs – government ministers, senior Gardaí, senior civil servants – tend to take moral niceties with the proverbial grain of salt. As a result, current tribunals of inquiry ultimately get nowhere when investigating political controversies and whistle-blower scandals.
Worse still, if our politicos have no choice but to comply with an investigation, they’ll make every effort to avoid giving a direct answer by denouncing someone or something else! Hence the reason why Dáil-sponsored probes become never-ending sagas.
Tim Sebastian apparently was unaware of those plain facts when he attempted to take the cap off the Tribunal can of worms! He simply didn’t understand the Irish system or the fact that among the wretches who make up our unique political world nothing is ever as it seems.
And now for real news: Transparency International Ireland shortly will launch a study of the procedures that councils use to prevent corruption. The investigation will fall into the categories of Transparency, Accountability and Ethics, focussing on matters such as planning, zoning, ethics declarations, lobbying, procurement, protected disclosures, freedom of information and financial transparency. All very sensitive areas!
But, most intriguingly, the study will pay particular attention to issues raised in the Mahon Tribunal. We wish them luck!
No more free drinks
At last, Gerry Adams’ apprehension that Dáil Eireann was becoming a squalid shebeen, where dishonest Senators and TDs didn’t have to pay for the booze they consume, is being taken seriously.
Last year, the gougers ran-up over €5,000 in unpaid bills. But, if our politicos now want to put their drink consumption ‘on the slate,’ they must complete a deduction mandate form that authorises the Oireachtas Service to recoup the amount owing from either their salary or credit card.
At the same time, TDs and senators have been advised not to seek credit from the barmen ‘out of courtesy to the staff.’ In other words, no more cadging of free drinks.
To which we say: Cripes, what’s the world coming to?