What a difference two years can make. Last Thursday marked the second anniversary of Bertie Ahern's departure from the office of Taoiseach.
And as he did on so many occasions during his reign as taoiseach, he spent the day in the north.
He was delivering a speech in memory of one of the north's leading loyalist figures. Following in the footsteps of Senator George Mitchell, Ahern gave the keynote address in memory of the former PUP leader David Ervine at Belfast's Oh Yeah Centre.
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune beforehand, Ahern joked, "It's election day in the north and I will be spending it with the loyalists!"
Ahern loyalists are in short supply these days, except, of course, in his home base of Drumcondra, where some of the old trappings of power still exist.
When the Sunday Tribune visited Ahern's constituency office St Luke's last week, the state car was parked outside on the footpath, just like the old days. But these are not the old days.
At its height, the Drumcondra machine had a lot of weapons in its arsenal. Ahern was Taoiseach, his brother Noel was a junior minister in the adjoining constituency, Cyprian Brady and the late Tony Kett had seats in the Seanád and Tom Stafford was on Dublin City Council.
Now, Brady and the two Ahern brothers are backbench TDs, Kett has sadly passed away, and Stafford lost his seat last June. Mary Fitzpatrick, who can hardly be described as part of the Drumcondra crew, is the sole representative from the area in City Hall.
"We don't have any other councillors, so in terms of representatives, compared to where we were a few years ago it is very different," said Ahern.
"We used to have a bigger elected team, but I am afraid that applies to all the Fianna Fáil constituencies since the last local elections. Now it's just three elected representatives – me, Cyp, and Mary Fitz – covering a big constituency. So it means that I do more constituency work than I probably thought I would have to do."
As taoiseach, Bertie Ahern used to get up every morning at 6.30am and work late into the night. He lives life at a slower pace now. He does not start work in St Luke's or the Dáil (when he goes to his office there) until 9am. He finishes up earlier these days. He regularly goes to his old haunts Fagan's in Drumcondra some weeknights, the Goose Tavern off Grace Park Road on Sunday nights, and Beaumont House on Saturday nights for a few pints.
He also finds himself at meetings in St Luke's a lot of evenings. "I am doing more constituency work now than ever as I don't have the back-up to do it anymore," he said.
"It is nice because that is where I started off doing the run-of-the-mill stuff. This place is like a spaghetti junction as people are in and out all of the time."
Ahern rarely attends the Dáil, except when he is required for votes. This is increasingly the case as the Dáil arithmetic and the government's narrow majority requires every vote.
"I do a lot of the run of the mill stuff in the Dáil. But I don't bother with debates because it is not in the tradition [for former taoisigh] to do that. If I did that they would all be saying that I was interfering. I go over there but I only go in voting when they need me."
After his resignation, Ahern had a big personal challenge in facing up to the harsh reality that he was yesterday's man after 11 years in the spotlight.
He recalled, "It's grand now but the first few months when I broke my silly leg was a bit frustrating because I had always been moving and going all my life.
"To be honest with you, I am a lousy patient at the best of times so that drove me mad, but thankfully I am back moving."
Ahern says he used his autobiography to amuse himself from November 2008, when he was out of action with the fractured leg and torn ligaments, until last summer.
When asked how history will judge Bertie Ahern, he laughed and replied, "I haven't got a clue. I will probably be long dead" before saying that he wants to be remembered as someone who "always worked and worked".
"I probably made mistakes but an awful lot we got right. And even now in the depths of an international recession we are only back to where we are in 2004, we are not back at 1944.
"Decentralisation was probably too ambitious. To move the amount of people we tried to move in a short period of time was never going to happen.
"I think decentralisation per se is a good idea but to try and do so much of it so quickly was never going to happen and it hasn't happened. I readily admit it was too ambitious to do it so quick but equally so, I think that a lot of the ones that have moved out have worked well."
In his December 2003 budget speech, the finance minister Charlie McCreevy dropped a bombshell when he announced that 10,300 public servants would be dispersed to 53 locations around the country. But the plan, which is currently on hold and expected to be scrapped, has been widely viewed as a failure that has cost the state in excess of €300m to date.
While Ahern has regrets about decentralisation, he does not accept any responsibility for the housing bubble and its subsequent collapse.
He claimed the property bubble would not have taken off if he had not given in to "media and political pressure" and others to get rid of the Residential Property Tax in April 1997, that he had the vision to bring in before then.
"We tried. I tried so many ways from 1997 on to stop the thing. I suppose if I have a regret today, when I brought in the Residential Property Tax as finance minister, we shouldn't have given in to media and political pressure on that.
"The media hammered me on that. RTÉ hammered me on it saying it was terrible but if we had to have kept it there, it would have kept down the bubble.
"I suppose coming into the 1997 election, every party decided not to have it but that was a mistake. We should have stuck to it. I tried to bring it in and those who stopped it should now get down and say mea culpa – they were wrong. I haven't seen any of them do that yet."
Ahern denies responsibility for the property bubble and instead blames globalisation for its collapse.
"It's a pity the recession came when it did. A few years would have slowed out the property thing, as it did in a lot of countries, and we would have got out in a more organised way and we wouldn't have got the quick dip. But the morning Lehman's happened, that was it and this is the trouble with globalisation."
He defends his benchmarking of public sector wages as "the public servants were falling away behind".
"Benchmarking works both ways which people didn't realise at the time. It goes up when times are good and down when times are bad and that is precisely what has happened.
"Some public servants now say 'we got nothing in the good years' but they did. They got benchmarking plus and now they are getting benchmarking minus. That was the rules."
Since he stepped down, Ahern has carved out a lucrative sideline as a guest-speaker on the after-dinner circuit. Last year he spoke twice at engagements in the US as well as events in Honduras, Nigeria and Spain.
The Washington Speakers' Bureau, the agency that acts as Ahern's booking agent for these events, recently told the Sunday Tribune that "his fee for London is $50,000 plus first-class expenses for two… that would be flights, hotel meals, incidentals and then airfare."
The same agency also acts for globally renowned speakers such as Tony Blair, Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Lance Armstrong.
Ahern is also doing a lot of work with Co-Operation Ireland, a cross-border schools and youth project. He does not get paid for this work and just claims his expenses.
"We got the political process going and now we have to try and get the integration of the communities working together," he said.
"I am also involved in the World Economic Forum and conflict resolution that has brought me around the world."
Even though he is perceived as a peacemaker on the global stage and asked to speak at events all over the world, Ahern always comes back to Drumcondra.
"I still go out doing the door knocks on a Saturday like we always did," he said.
"I don't work Sundays anymore which is a real plus. When I was Taoiseach I used to be here in St Luke's early on a Sunday morning reading through the briefs. Having Sundays off is like a holiday now so I spend it with the kids and the girls."
His daughter Cecelia's baby Robin is just four months old and Ahern's twin grandsons, Rocco and Jay, are three years old now.
"Their father Nicky [Westlife's Nicky Byrne] has already ensured that they are Manchester United supporters.
"I am looking forward to getting them into the GAA games for the summer," he said. Ahern is still a keen GAA fan. Last Saturday night week he travelled to Cavan to watch Dublin narrowly beat Donegal in the All-Ireland under-21 final.
"I have been able to get to more matches. That's one of the nice things even though I am still busy," he said.
"I keep involved with football in the community. We have Home Farm, Na Fianna and Plunketts in the constituency, so I keep an eye on them all."
He did not get over to Manchester to many games in Old Trafford last year because of his broken leg, but he is still as fanatical about Manchester United.
"I still follow them closer than ever. But I will have to concede we are going to end up a point behind. But you can't win them all as Alex [Ferguson] said," he added.
So what does the future hold for yesterday's man? If some unforeseen circumstance caused the fall of the government, would the name 'Ahern, Bartholomew' appear on the Dublin Central ballot paper?
"If the election was next week, I would yeah. I always said that if there was an early election that I would stand but if I went to the other side of 60 it was unlikely," said Ahern.
His 60th birthday is on 2 September next year. If the government falls before then, the wheels of his old Drumcondra machine may be oiled and put back into action for one last time.
"I think that the government will last. I don't see any possibility of an election before, at least, the end of next year unless there was a real banana skin."
When asked if he feels sorry for Taoiseach Brian Cowen, he said "I do… He hit hard times".
"But the other side of it is that I was minister for finance in the currency crisis, I was minister for labour when there were huge strikes and I had to do social partnership, I was Taoiseach when the north was at its height and I was European president when we were doing enlargement.
"So, lots of difficult times give you opportunities. When I look back, I think that those difficult challenges were the things that made me. As I always said about politics, I am afraid it's all about hard work."
The party Ahern once led suffered a hammer blow last weekend when the Labour party leapfrogged them to place Fianna Fáil as the third most popular political party in the latest Red C/Sunday Business Post opinion poll.
Ahern believes the Fianna Fáil grassroots organisation can recover if it is shown the correct leadership.
"The spirit of the organisation is there… I think that it is for the guys inside to give them the lead and the lift... I think that once people see that we have to get through the economic difficulties, they will respond. I think that the organisation will lift when they see that we are getting through the tide.
"I think that all the things that the two Brians have done, getting the economy back into kilter, getting ourselves competitive, getting in control of the deficit were the right things to do.
"They have done all the right things… It is to get the bounce out of those decisions and I think that if the guys stay tight for two years they will see that and the organisation will respond accordingly."
Two years ago, Ahern was many people's favourite to replace President Mary McAleese in Aras an Uachtaráin.
Ahern's troubles at the Mahon tribunal led to his departure from the job of taoiseach, but arguably it is the collapse of the economy that has caused the most damage to his reputation and the presidency now looks less and less likely.
Ahern is reluctant to be drawn on recent media and political criticism of the Flood/Mahon and Moriarty tribunals. But he did claim, "Every time this happens, it delays it. I would rather see the end of them as it has taken up too much of my life and money."
He added that the tribunals should have been wound up in 1998. "It has gone endlessly and we are in the thirteenth year of something that was of 'urgent and profound importance'."
So does he still have his eyes on Aras?
"The Aras does not arise till next year so we will just wait and see." After repeated questions on the presidency, he would not rule it out.
"It's too early. It's an awful long way to the autumn next year. I am sure there will be lots of good candidates when we get to this time next year."
His name is also mentioned in terms of the new directly-elected Dublin mayor role but he labeled it a "non-job".
"All I ever said about the mayoralty is that I really thought that it should have substantive powers. Incidentally I don't think it has.
"I don't know who would be interested in the job that's there. I consider it a non-job.
"If there are no executive powers, what is the point in having it? Just leave it the way it was when I was there 24 years ago [as Lord Mayor], otherwise you are going to have one fella with a chain and the other fella without a chain and neither of them will know who is running the place so I see no attraction in that."
The downstairs walls in St Luke's are covered with hundreds of pictures documenting Ahern's political career. Some tell chapters of his life as a statesman and show him posing with everyone from Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Bill Clinton.
Others show him in his famous anorak and date back to the early days of the Drumcondra machine before his election in 1977.
History has yet to judge Ahern. The Mahon tribunal will have a lot to do with that.
But two years after his downfall, he's still working away in Drumcondra like it's 1977.
David Norris 9/4
Brian Crowley 5/2
Bertie Ahern 8/1
John Bruton 8/1
Seán Kelly (ex GAA) 10/1
Mairéad McGuinness 10/1
Fergus Finlay 12/1
Mary O'Rourke 12/1
Michael D Higgins 14/1
Mary Davis 16/1
Emily O'Reilly 18/1
Alan Dukes 20/1
Margaret Ritchie 25/1
Mary White 25/1
John Hume 25/1
Enda Kenny 10/11
Richard Bruton 3/1
Brian Cowen 7/2
Eamon Gilmore 8/1
Brian Lenihan 10/1
Dermot Ahern 10/1
Micheál Martin 12/1
Joan Burton 16/1
Ruairí Quinn 20/1
Mary Coughlan 20/1
Mary Hanafin 25/1
Mairéad McGuinness 25/1
Bertie Ahern 25/1
John Bruton 50/1
Mary Harney 100/1
Ruairí Quinn 5/2
Gay Mitchell 3/1
Royston Brady 8/1
Dermot Lacey 8/1
Eibhlín Byrne 14/1
Joe Duffy 14/1
Seán Haughey 14/1
Bill Cullen 16/1
Pat Rabbitte 16/1
David Norris 18/1
Duncan Stewart 20/1
Trevor Sargent 20/1
Bertie Ahern 20/1
Brian Hayes 25/1
If Ireland was like any other country in the world, Aherne would be swinging from a lamppost by now.
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A few years ago when Ahearne"s Government was in the process of turning boom into bust and the tent at the Galway Races was in full swing a young trainee female teacher did her teaching practise in my classes.I told her that my policy towards guest speakers was no visits from councillors or politicans who belonged to a party who claimed payment for going to work or had members in receipt of immoral pensions No visits to Leinster House.I always invited people who did voluntary work at home or abroad. However I told her that if it suited her lesson plans she was free to invite however she wished.A few weeks later a guest speaker arrived to address her class.A radical Sinn Fein councillor told how he had helped to bring about the Good Friday agreement by taking a stand by working in the community.This person was working while the pretenders were at the races or being entertained by business men who had plans to use them.The legacy of ghost towns I attrribute to Aherne.The young people in the class were spellbound as this person told of the many sacrifices he had made.No salary,no pension,no chauffered car to bring him around and carry on the charade This young teacher had total contempt for Ahearn"s and his stooges. Thank you Ahearne for making people realise what a phony tou are.