To err is human, to forgive... is Bertie’s seat strategy

SLACKING in the Dáil, accepting free perks, breaking the law — even that most cardinal of sins, criticising Fianna Fáil — none seem too bad to prevent career progress in the eyes of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

In announcing his Senate appointments yesterday, Mr Ahern kept with previous form and chose to resurrect the political career of a man whose life in public office was considered all but over.

Ivor Callely resigned his junior ministry in disgrace in December 2005 when it emerged that a construction firm had paid for painting work on his house in the early 1990s.

There is some irony here, of course: the Taoiseach himself accepted “dig outs” from friends while Finance Minister in the early 1990s, but saw nothing wrong with his own actions.

In May, Mr Callely lost his seat in the General Election. He subsequently attempted to win a seat in the Seanad, for which he needed the support of FF TDs, senators and councillors. For the most part, they turned their backs on him.

At that point, Ivor Callely was a busted flush… or so it seemed. But one thing stood in his favour: in the General Election, despite losing his seat, he had polled 7,003 first-preferences, almost 2,000 more than Independent TD Finian McGrath. Ultimately, Mr McGrath attracted more transfers, and beat Mr Callely to the third and final seat. But 7,003 first-preferences is an extremely solid basis on which to build. Mr Ahern and the FF hierarchy looked at Mr Callely and saw a politician who had the potential to regain his seat at the next General Election, and so he was appointed to the Senate.

It will keep him in the corridors of power, it will allow him continue his constituency work, and it will give Mr Callely a platform from which to launch a fresh bid for the Dáil in a few years’ time.

It did not seem to matter to Mr Ahern or the FF hierarchy that this was a politician who had caused the party considerable grief two years ago, when his reluctance to resign ensured a political farce that almost overshadowed the Budget. A seat is a seat, no matter who fills it.

That attitude should not come as a surprise. After all, Mr Ahern gave Meath TD Mary Wallace a junior ministry last year despite the fact that she had participated in only half of all Dáil votes from June 2002 to the time of her appointment. Many backbenchers were annoyed, feeling a more “loyal” TD should have appointed at the time. But the move worked: the junior ministry added lustre to Ms Wallace’s profile and she brought in a running mate in Meath East at the election.

A seat is a seat also appeared the motive behind the decision to keep Jim McDaid in the party, despite his high-profile conviction for drink driving. Again, the decision worked: Mr McDaid regained his seat for the party in Donegal North East in the May election.

Also appointed to the Senate yesterday was Donegal county councillor Brian O Domhnaill, who criticised Fianna Fáil and threatened to leave the party after it failed to select him as a candidate for this year’s election.

Like any great politician, Mr Ahern knows the value of forgiveness when there’s something in it for him.

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