Bertie Ahern indeed has done some service to his country and done some service to Fianna Fail. His departure now was not the least of that service.
By Vincent Browne
Bertie Ahern's pivotal role in making peace in Northern Ireland was his most telling accomplishment. Not so much in the negotiations themselves, although his emollient personality and his emotional discipline were important elements in the chemistry that brought about the agreement. Rather it was the manner in which he finessed the dropping of Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish Constitution, those that made the territorial claim on Northern Ireland.
Those Articles were regarded as the foundation of the Irish State, non-negotiable. Articles of principle, the principle of Irish nationalism. But he was able to concede on those Articles during the negotiations in May 1998 at Stormont and then carry a referendum on the abandonment of those principles by a majority in excess of 94 per cent. It was an extraordinary achievement and one can think of no other leader or would-be leader that could have finessed that.
His contribution to Fianna Fail was extraordinary also. Faction-fighting had weakened the party from 1970 onwards, the year of the arms trial. Until Bertie became leader, the party was deeply divided. He has left it unified and left it as the party of government. Positioned Fianna Fail so adroitly that he has assured its dominance of Irish politics for at lest another decade. He proved Fianna Fail-led coalitions can work, thereby creating the prevailing imperative: it is not whether Fianna Fail is returned to power but with whom.
The timing of his resignation statement was crucial. Had he gone on even for another day he would have done damage. Damage because there is no plausible innocent explanation for the sterling amounts that surfaced recently, those lodged to his building society account by his former secretary, Grainne Carruth in 1994. And there was/is worse to come, more implausibilities, piled on the already mountain of implausibilities.
The party cohesion could not have survived yet more revelations and more quite unbelievable explanations. The old factionism would have returned. Going now avoids that.
The next months, even years, may not be pleasant ones for Bertie Ahern. The Tribunal ordeal will dominate his life even more now when he does nto have the demands and distractions of office. And the outcome may be even more unpleasant. For it is obvious he got large amounts of money from somewhere in 1994 and he hasn't told the truth about it.
May 6, 2008 will be the end of the Bertie era, the beginning of the Brian Cowen era. The latter era will be harsher, not just became the economy has taken a slump but because of style.