Peacemaker Bertie Ahern fighting to preserve his character

 

Visit Bertie Ahern's official website and you are immediately confronted by pictures of the former Taoiseach as peacemaker.

There is Bertie with Tony Blair, Bertie clasping Ian Paisley's hand, Bertie alongside Kofi Annan, Gerry Adams and Jonathan Powell reading out a peace declaration intended to resolve the Basque conflict.

There is no reference to the Mahon tribunal, no talk of operating without a bank account or depending on financial "dig outs" from friends.

Rewind to the moment when Mr Ahern rushed back from burying his 87-year-old mother Julia to continue the Good Friday Agreement talks.

The consensus view would have been one of sympathy for the young Taoiseach, admiration for his determination to continue his work and recognition for his skilful handling of high-wire negotiations.

In 1998 both Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair appeared at the height of their powers - intelligent enough to grasp the complexity of the problems, but flexible and decisive enough to find a way through.

Fast forward 14 years and everything has changed completely.

Tony Blair remains sought after and well remunerated on the international statesman lecture circuit.

But many of his countrymen will never forgive him for his handling of the 2003 Iraq war, and the infamous and ultimately non-existent weapons of mass destruction.

Now Mr Ahern is at his lowest ebb - threatened with expulsion by his own Fianna Fail party after the Mahon tribunal refused to believe his accounts of his complex financial dealings.

Mr Ahern has vehemently protested his innocence of any corruption and insisted that he "told the truth to this tribunal" strongly rejecting "any suggestion that I sought to mislead it."

With Fianna Fail anxious to put its tarnished past behind it, it does not look likely the party will extend Mr Ahern the benefit of the doubt.

Back in 2010, after publishing his autobiography, Tony Blair talked to me about, at times, stretching the truth "beyond breaking point" to keep the peace process on track.

Charles Haughey famously called Bertie Ahern the "most devious and cunning of them all".

Both men knew exactly which leader to court to seal a deal and when to employ a bit of "creative ambiguity".

In the interests of peace, most people recognise that the end justifies the means.

But if the public suspects you are pursuing less worthy goals, you could find yourself fighting to preserve your good character, as Mr Ahern has now discovered.

 
Mark Devenport Article written by Mark Devenport Mark Devenport Political editor, Northern Ireland

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