Did it happen at all? Was the decade up until 2008 really a mirage? This time of year calls for reflection. As austerity hangs in the air like a cold fog, we try to remember the Christmases that often lurched from excess into vulgarity. Were those years just a figment of the national imagination?
Maybe we should ask Bertie Ahern, who was at the helm during the decade of boom and bubble. From this vantage it is difficult to fathom that Ahern was hailed in such recent days as a remarkable politician, and a worthy successor to Éamon de Valera in shaping the country.
Right now, the most devious, the most cunning, the most skilful of them all, appears to have succumbed to paranoid delusions. On Thursday, he told Ursula Halligan on TV3 that somebody had been "working night and day to screw me up" in the last months of his premiership. The cretin who was doing him down, was, he hinted, operating from within the Fianna Fáil family. The code of Omerta and the libel laws prevented him from revealing the Judas figure.
Elsewhere, he is not receiving the welcome normally accorded great servants of the people. In NUI Maynooth, students and staff are kicking up over the prospect of Ahern being appointed visiting professor. Over 1,200 students and 30 staff have signed letters of protest. This kind of treatment in the realm of academia is usually reserved for war criminals and page three models.
Others are referring to him like something the cat dragged in rather than an ex-statesman of repute. In the course of a radio interview last week, Michael O'Leary repeatedly called him "a feckless ditherer". Notwithstanding O'Leary's propensity to see everybody strictly in terms of whether or not they contribute to Ryanair's profits, his assessment of Ahern was less than flattering.
The Phoenix Christmas annual dubbed Ahern a "book peddler and a fantasist". Last week, he was being vilified on Liveline for horsing around the country at taxpayers' expense to flog his book. The man of the people is no longer finding favour with the people. Was he really the most devious, the most cunning, or was he, like the illusion of plenty, a mirage?
Certainly, since stepping down his behaviour has been more Forrest Gump than Eamon de Valera. Only last February, he was addressing a conference in Honduras on the secrets of the rampaging Celtic Tiger. Meanwhile, back home, the beast's carcass was being flailed to within an inch of its life. The company which organises his speeches suggested he drop the tale of the tiger.
Late last month, he popped over to Dubai to big up their economy, which in so many ways reminded him of the great job he had done back home. Dubai effectively declared itself bankrupt within a week of that nod of approval.
Then last Saturday brought a surreal event. Ahern was to be found signing copies of his autobiography at the Quays Shopping Centre in Newry, peddling his wares to the legions fleeing an economy which was steered towards the rocks during his tenure.
Elsewhere, his Gumpian wanderings have lurched from the ridiculous to the barely believable. Two days after the death of Stephen Gately, Ahern was on Sky News and RTÉ telling how the departed singer had attended at the launch of his autobiography in the Mansion House just the previous week. "He was with us the other night with his boyfriend, Andy. He came to my book launch".
The story went out across the world, quoted in newspapers as far away as the Daily News in Egypt, linking Ahern to the dead celebrity. After some investigations by the Sunday Tribune, it was established that Gately was nowhere near Ahern's book launch on the night in question.
A spokeswoman for Ahern then told the Sunday Tribune: "Mr Ahern was confused by that quote as well. He never said Stephen Gately attended his book launch. The misunderstanding could have come about because Mr Ahern said Ronan Keating of Boyzone and his wife Yvonne attended the launch and somebody obviously picked it up wrong."
Who could that somebody be? Maybe it was Bertie Ahern, who misunderstood the words he was speaking himself.
In the aforementioned autobiography, Ahern recounts an episode straight out of Bertie Goes To Westminster. On entering the office of British foreign secretary Robin Cook in 1997, our hero was confronted by a large portrait of Oliver Cromwell.
"Robin had this little smirk on his face as he sidled up to me and asked: 'So what do you think of him, then?' 'He's a murdering bastard,' I shot back. That wiped the smile off Robin's face. The officials froze. You could see them thinking, Jesus, what are we going to do now? No one was saying anything. I let that hang there for a while before I said, 'Use another room next time but let's get on with it now."
The passage is jawdropping on a number of fronts. Ahern was commended far and wide for pocketing personal thoughts and ego for the sake of furthering negotiations. Yet here he was, unable to prevent himself expressing his Republican hatred of a historic hero of the British at a highly sensitive time of negotiations on the North.
And Cook, a man who resigned in protest over the Iraq War, is presented as smirking at this encounter between Cromwell's image and an Irish prime minister.
Of course Cook is now dead, and, like some crucial figures from the Mahon tribunal probe into Ahern's finances, unable to corroborate Ahern's version of this amazing encounter.
Apart from Cromwell's ghost, there is one other entity that must represent all evil in the eyes of Bertie. The merchant bank Lehman Brothers is, he has repeatedly told us, responsible for the doom that has enveloped the Irish economy.
Lehmans went belly up in September 2008, and, according to Bertie, the bank's collapse is the sole reason for the Irish economy's woes. Contrary to the opinion of everybody from the governor of the Central Bank to Paddy McGinty's goat, Ahern bears no responsibility for the mess we're in.
The merchant bank got another outing from Ahern in his latest searing interview, captured between the covers of the celebrity magazine VIP. He is described as "the people's taoiseach, who reigned supreme during our boom years". It introduces him as talking about "how he would fix the country", to which the only reply could be, "No, no, please don't, we're fixed fine, leave us alone. Enough already".
The interview was tough and insightful. One of the more robust questions posed was: "you're a bit of divil, aren't you?" He replied: "Yeah. When I meet with the gang for a few jars we abuse and insult each other something awful."
He told VIP that "cynics and knockers" should "grow bluebells or do something useful". This statement reflects a mellowing of Bertie, as he once opined that these knockers should commit suicide.
But it was Thursday's interview on TV3 that really sent out the worrying signals. Ahern had another pop at Brian Lenihan and Mary Coughlan, whom he accused of badmouthing him while his travails in Dublin Castle were underway. Bertie is hurt that they did so in a sneaky manner. It's not how he would have done it. "People nice to your face and talking behind your back," he sniffed.
Albert Reynolds could share his pain. Remember the Fianna Fáil selection convention for presidential candidate in 1997? Ahern showed Reynolds his ballot paper, assuring the candidate he was backing him, while he assiduously conspired to ensure the parliamentarians would vote for Mary McAleese.
There were glimpses of the human being behind the pathological politician in the Halligan interview, but as always with Ahern, separating fact from fiction requires some work.
The most telling point came at the end, when Halligan asked him if it was all worth it.
"I'm not sure," he said. "I'm not sure." Therein appeared to be some smidgen of awareness of both self and the state he had fashioned over a decade.
By right, a man with his record of electoral success and longevity in office should now be basking in the afterglow of achievement. Even allowing for the high personal price he undoubtedly paid, he should be at peace now. Yet his demeanour and sniping speak of somebody suffering from bitterness, maybe even regret, possibly loneliness.
For a while there, it was possible to have sympathy for him.
Somebody was "working day and night to screw me up", Ahern told Ursula Halligan. The implication was obvious. His travails at the Mahon tribunal, which ultimately led to his resignation, were compounded by somebody attempting to make hay on the back of his woes.
Who could it be? The startling revelation had resonance with Ahern's claim some years ago that he and Joe Higgins were two of the only three socialists in the Dáil. Earlier this year, he revealed that Pat Rabbitte was the third man. But who was the dastardly cad feverishly working to unseat the most cunning of them all? Take your pick.
Willie O'Dea: During the tribunal travails, Willie made a number of references to Ahern's communion money. Was O'Dea jealous that Ahern had done so much better than himself in hovering up childhood cash? Was he unhappy that he had been made a captain but not a capo by the boss? O'Dea is definitely in the frame.
Brian Lenihan: He has already been identified by Ahern as bad-mouthing him. Was there more to it? Did Lenihan even then forecast that with Ahern out of the way, all that stood between him and the top job was Brian Cowen and a recession?
Mary Coughlan: No way. A lovely girl would never stoop to working night and day to bring down a nice man.
The Grinch: A known cribber and moaner, he was never happy with Bertie the doer. The Grinch also has some form in trying to mess things up, what with his attitude to Christmas and people enjoying themselves. The Grinch is short odds on being the screwer-upper.
Paddy McGinty's goat: In the TV3 interview Bertie made reference to Johnny McGinty's goat. Was this an attempt to denigrate the goat, passing him from Paddy to Johnny? Do Ahern and the McGinty goat have some history?
Bertie Ahern: But sure who else could it be? Wasn't he the very man trotting into Dublin Castle with tales about dig-outs and horses and walk-around sterling? How could Bertie Ahern keep a grasp on the reins of power while this man was doing his damnedest to screw him up in the eyes of the world. While Ahern was searching high and low for the source of his travails, there he was in the bathroom mirror, staring back with that goofy grin that wouldn't harm a fly.
The funniest thing about the interview was him starting it by explaining how tough a fighter he was and ended it with 'it's not fair - the other boys are picking on me'.
He also bragged that he could leak things by telling those he knew he couldn't trust - but seemingly can't do this with the name of the individual who was out to get him!
Yeah,its hilarious,is it not?
but it says more about you as a nation than it does about this one "devious,cunning" individual.
Its a bit like another side-splitting moment this week at the sight of Seff Blatter-trying not to abandon himself to an incontrollable fit of the giggles- coming to terms with the incredible arrogance and stupidity of a little pixie nation like yourselves.I mean just where do you get off,and who exactly do you deluded race of a people think you are exactly??
I think that the lie about Gately attended his book lauch was a shameless stoke. Using a young man's death to publicise his book is disgusting.
As for the rest of the article, it just shows how the man seems to live in his own world of fantasy and lies.
Like Bill Clinton poor Bertie was bad mouthed by someone, could it be one of those loolas in the bushes.He ruined our country,and blames it on Leemans (sic) nothing to do with his spend,spend spend.And as Finance minister he did not have a bank account,but kept it under the bed. And won some of his gains on the nags. Pity he does not go away and keep quiet.
Well...it is a terrible pity that whoever was trying to screw Bertie failed....because if they had suceeded they would have prevented Bertie screwing the rest of us.
On hearing that Bertie Ahern's book has been launched...I have just remembered....I have to buy toilet paper some time tomorrow as we are running low.
He now lives in one of those mental reservations that the church live on and is content to throws stones at his former colleagues who still need his vote. Those he held in such high regard as to make them ministers. Ahern, has been described by Lenihan as being "retired" and he has admitted himself that he has "very little interest in politics now". Not retired enough, disinterested enough,republican enough or socialist enough to desist from drawing his fat pay check. What would you expect from a man who is prepared to hawk de bukk to cross border shoppers trying to flee the waste land of Bertie's republic.
Lets hope the tribunal that we have paid hundreds of millions for, calls it like it is, for the finance minister that never had a bank account, but had six of them in somebody else's name! Who explained his finances by referring to money he won on horses though he could not produce the slips. The prime minister who introduced us to paddy the plasterer a good man seemingly with a trowel in his hand but not bad if you were in need of accommodation either. What I heard him say, to Halligan, in relation to the tribunal was, he did not mind being found to be dishonest as long as he was not found to be dishonest in taking bribes. The old mental reservation trick. Dishonest in one category but not in another. So dishonesty is not dishonesty?
De joke is on us ejit's for voting him in three times in a row and now having to live on an island which is more akin to an actual reservation. Surrounded by unemployment, broken pavements, houses on flood plains, broken hospitals, bankrupt banks and empty houses and apartments everywhere.
We shouldn't get so bothered about Bertie really. He is really like a C-list celebity, a low-grade out-of-date personality has-been who does his interviews on TV3. He has no class. His legacy is two-fold - the north's peace deal, and the Celtic Tiger. While his role in the north should not be forgotten, it's history really, and the shameful lack of interest in the north from south over decades is such that it's not really of any value to Ahern's standing now. That's because of the other more current legacy: the rotting carcass of the Celtic Tiger, something which is going to linger around like a politician who doesn't know when his time is up. His number will actually be really up when Mahon delivers its verdict so really we should ignore Bertie until then.
It took us a long time to realise the emperor had no clothes.The good times made us all blind.
Bertie is one of the hot favourites to win the next Irish Presidential Election.
The man can do no wrong- got out whilst the auld tiger was falling off the cliff.
Okay there was questions about the bundles of cash he carried around for day to day expenses because poor Bertie never did trust banks.
So you see the man was a prophet before his time.
Well if you like a flutter - go for the best win double is for John O'D to top the poll in Kerry and Bertie romps home for the President's Job...
My god the bitterness shown, not just in the article but in some of the comments above, is hillarious! Yet more tripe from clowns who feel the need to blame politicians and bankers for the mistakes of millions! we elected Bertie and his people and ultimately the decisions, laws and policies they implemented are there because of that and satisfied us enough over the years for us to re-elect the same people 3 times.
Hello? How many of you paid incredibly inflated prices for your houses that a few years earlier were at affordable prices? Yes the Government should not have allowed property prices rise so steeply that the only way proffesional people could be a house owner was to hock their soles to the Banks. But dont forget you all had the choice not to pay these prices and create a false economy that the whole world and his dog knew could not be sustained. and the majority of the population re elected the politicians allowing this to happen. The wreck that is the Irish economy was all our responsibilities how we procede from here is going to be more important than what we have ever done before. Dont fight work for it.
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Great piece Michael. I particularly liked the reference to war criminals and page three models. Everyone with the exception of a small few know the part that Bertie played in our demise. It is my contention that it was more Bertie's policies than any actions of the banks or developers which has led to our current situation. Without the government policies that we had during his reign the bankers and developers could not have done so much damage. Bertie facilitated all of it through his light touch regulation etc.