Bertie's story is a typical one

  • 18 October 2006
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I have a declaration to make. I once almost accepted a favour from a friend who was also a businessman. Some years ago, having been embroiled for several months in hugely costly family-law proceedings in two jurisdictions, I was staring bankruptcy in the face. For a while it looked as if I might lose my home in Dublin and I was already trying to sell a second property I had purchased for family reasons in London. As the market had slumped since I'd bought this house, it was proving somewhat difficult to shift.

In the middle of all this, I got a phone call from Mike Hogan, then publisher of Magill magazine, who said that he had heard I was in financial difficulties and wondered if there was anything he could do. I outlined the problem and he immediately offered to buy my house in London for whatever I told him it was worth. Why would he do this? Because, he explained, he was a friend of mine and this is the kind of things friends do for one another. Did he not want to obtain a professional valuation of the house before buying it? Why would he want to do that? Did I not know how much my own house was worth?

As it happened, I didn't need to call in this favour because the house sold in the normal way. But in truth I remain under a debt of gratitude to Mike, because at a most stressful time he restored my capacity to sleep at night and may, for all I know, have saved me from a fatal heart attack.

This is the way men behave to one another in the privacy of their friendships. Out there in the great outdoors of real life there is nothing unusual about such expressions of friendship and generosity. I was not the first man to be nearly beggared by family courts, and certainly not the last. As it turns out, the Taoiseach was there long before me and remains haunted by the experience 13 years later.

The fleecing and brutalisation of a generation of men by grasping, conniving lawyers and stupid, vindictive judges, is one of the silent realities of Irish life, ignored by the media because such abuses, though deeply newsworthy and certainly of urgent public interest, are ideologically incompatible with current media agendas.

Instead we are served, for breakfast, dinner and tea, "probity in public life". The real scandal of the saga of Bertie's "dig-out" is that it was necessary at all, that an institution of the state was responsible for driving an ethical man on a good salary into going cap-in-hand to his friends. For anyone genuinely concerned about the quality of life in this society – as opposed to creating salacious material to drive public rage or curiosity or add a plot-twist to the political soap opera – this is what jumps out of this affair. And this is why the controversy has not damaged Bertie Ahern's standing with the public. Most people have brothers or sons or uncles to whom the same thing happened and a growing number of males have had the same thing happen to them.

Among the many messages of the post-"scandal" opinion polls is that there are hidden agendas in Irish life (the family-law obscenity is just one of several) which will greatly influence the next and future elections but which the media, on account of being saturated with unacknowledged ideologies, have almost no capacity to divine. Politicians, because they live in the real world, are aware of these, but they avoid them precisely because the media refuse to treat them seriously. The great mistake made by Enda Kenny and Pat Rabbitte during the recent controversy was in following the media agenda rather than their own noses. They may huff and puff as much as they like about the double-standards of the electorate, but if they still fail to understand the character of the mistake they have made, they really should consider giving up politics before the choice is taken out of their hands.