Bertie Ahern showed up at the ard fheis, despite Micheál Martin’s clear attempt to distance Fianna Fáil from the former taoiseach.
Mr Ahern arrived at the RDS at about 1pm on Saturday, and stayed for two-and-a-half hours mingling with members. But he refused to engage with the media, saying he had taken a “vow of silence”.
The night before, without mentioning him by name, Mr Martin attempted to put clear blue water between the party and the tainted Ahern era.
“I repeat tonight a promise I have given in every meeting throughout the country — when the final report of the Mahon Tribunal is published, we will act without fear or favour against anyone who is shown to have abused their position in Fianna Fáil or in elected office,” Mr Martin said. “Action will be swift and comprehensive.”
Some at the ard fheis believed Mr Ahern would not show up at the event following that implicit criticism of him. But Mr Ahern did turn up, and chatted to delegates, shook hands, and even signed his autograph following a request from a party member in Cork.
It wasn’t all positive — some members made it known to reporters that they felt Mr Ahern’s presence was inappropriate. But Mr Ahern appears immune to such criticism, having made a concerted effort in recent months to defend his record and absolve himself of any blame for the economic collapse. In a TV3 documentary last year, he said people had simply overstretched themselves in the property market, adding: “I suppose it’s handy enough for them to blame somebody.”
But Mr Ahern’s staunch defence of his record – either on Mahon or the economy — is not washing with the party leadership.
Despite the fact Mr Martin was a member of all of Mr Ahern’s cabinets, and despite the fact he was one of the ministers who defended Mr Ahern when he came entangled with the tribunal, Mr Martin is now preparing to cut Fianna Fáil’s former hero loose.
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