BERTIE had rushed back from Moscow to be there, but where was Blair?
The ex-taoiseach looked like he could well have done without having to flounce around in a flowing pink and orange gown the morning after watching his beloved red devils lift the Champions League cup in the most dramatic of fashions, but he sat their patiently as praise was heaped upon him, the centre of attention once again.
Good Friday deal broker Senator George Mitchell had joked that people in the north would go a hundred miles out of their way to receive an insult, so a few time zones was nothing for Bertie to surmount to pick-up an honorary degree from Belfast’s Queen’s University in gratitude for his role in the peace process.
Luckily, Brian Cowen had not been involved in writing Mr Ahern’s acceptance speech, so it was suitable for a family audience. Though, understandably, Mr Ahern appeared a tad worse for wear after dashing from the charter flight which had whisked him from Russia to Belfast, via London and his mind was clearly still on that penalty shoot out thriller.
“My heart doesn’t normally go out to the opposition — of any kind — but last night to Chelsea at the end, to John Terry in particular, I felt sorry.
“United were lucky last night in my estimation to be fair about it, but it was a good night, a very enjoyable night, but it is more important to be here today,” he said after the ceremony.
Yes, he had certainly made the effort to get there, more than could be said for his partner in the Good Friday Agreement process. Queen’s University chancellor Senator Mitchell said Tony was absent because he was busy helping bring peace to the Middle East, which is probably just as well seeing as he has brought so much war to it in the past. Mr Blair looked decidedly sheepish in the pre-recorded video link to London, raising suspicion he is too embarrassed to come out in public since the publication of his wife’s squirmingly indelicate memoirs in which she shared the couple’s most intimate secrets with the world, such as being too timid to bring her “contraceptive equipment”, as she called it, to Balmoral when they stayed with the Queen, or the time she and the future prime minister got jiggy upstairs on a double decker bus.
Thankfully, we can expect few such revelations from Mr Ahern’s autobiography, which given the terrible memory lapses he displayed at the Mahon Tribunal, will probably prove to be one of the shortest such books in recent political history.
The date of Manchester United’s shoot-out with destiny in Moscow was originally pencilled in as his first day at the Mahon Tribunal as Citizen Bertie, so it must have been a relief to be sitting in Luzhniki stadium witnessing the sterling Reds pound the penalty box, rather than sitting in the Dublin Castle witness box wondering if all those sterling pounds from the past would lead to any penalty in the future.
Mr Ahern has now chalked up quite a few honorary doctorates from universities around the world, though strangely not from the London School of Economics, the establishment which used to mysteriously appear on his CV. Maybe next time?
Applause for Mr Ahern was warm at Queen’s as what will undoubtedly be remembered as the greatest achievement of his time in power was honoured.
The former taoiseach was in reflective mood as he looked back on the 10-year struggle to bring peace to the north, but hinted he saw a possible future role for himself in the global fight against HIV, rather than in conflict solution.
Blair may have been missing somewhere in the Middle East, but Bertie appeared to have mellowed on his mission to Moscow.
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