Well done, Bertie. Now put the same decisiveness to work on FF

IF you have a bit of a cash-flow problem at the moment, or the credit rating is lacking credibility for that loan you need, you could always get the Taoiseach to go guarantor.

His signature is better than a platinum card and the great thing is that you don't even have to go through the embarrassment of asking him to sign on the dotted line.

Better still, there shouldn't be any consequences if you are found out, apart from a bit of embarrassment, and even then an auld apology will be enough.

It works ask Lorcan Allen. Admittedly, he didn't con a bank manager into giving him a few grand by forging the Taoiseach's signature. But he conned the voters in the Gorey constituency of Wexford County Council by doing it. And what's more, he got the taxpayers to pay for his scam, or he thought he did.

This week, after previously lying through his teeth, Allen admitted producing and distributing 2,500 copies of a bogus letter purporting to be from the Taoiseach, and signed by him, soliciting support for Allen in the local election to the detriment of his party colleague, Pat Rath. Lorcan Allen obviously has a warped sense of humour, and doesn't suffer from false vanity, because he surreptitiously got the Taoiseach to endorse him as "a patriot and honest."

Fr Murphy from old Kilcormac must be turning in his grave. If he knew the kind of self-styled "patriots" who would follow, the rebel priest might have had second thoughts about spurring up the rock with a warning cry way back in 1798.

The last I heard, before going to press, was that Lorcan Allen is still a member of Wexford County Council, despite the fact that he got there by false pretences. In the hiatus that ensued after he admitted to doing both, the outrage concentrated on his misuse of the free postage, presumably because it gave him a huge financial advantage over his party colleague.

The forged letter was sent out to between 2,000 and 3,000 voters, without any cost to Lorcan Allen, although now that his duplicity has been uncovered, he said he will make restitution.

It is a very serious abuse of a perk which is made available to Oireachtas members.

What I can't understand, though, is the attitude which has been prevalent all this week that the abuse of Oireachtas post seems far more serious than forging the signature of the Taoiseach.

The immediate reaction from Fianna Fáil was that while Allen's conduct was totally unacceptable and wrong, and there was an ongoing investigation into the postage issue, it was a matter for the local party in Wexford. I cannot fathom the attitude of Fianna Fáil to the forging of our prime minister's signature by a councillor by anybody to help their election prospects. Unless, of course, such fraudulent measures are accepted within the party as a means to an end to get elected.

It cannot and should not be accepted by anyone else.

Even the attitude of Bertie Ahern seems to be rather ambivalent. Maybe he's still on a high after a superb performance in Europe during Ireland's presidency of the EU, and the Taoiseach is more than entitled to bask in what he achieved.

Answering questions in the Dáil, he said that had he known what Lorcan Allen was up to, he would "naturally enough" have taken steps to make sure it did not happen. He referred to the Standards in Public Office legislation, which in his view governed all such "inappropriate" conduct. The national executive of Fianna Fáil will discuss a report on the matter in a week's time.

There's inappropriate conduct, and there's inappropriate conduct, and to be quite honest I think that forging the Taoiseach's signature is bordering on the criminal. Forging anyone's signature with the intention of getting personal gain of a financial nature or otherwise is a criminal offence.

In the case of Lorcan Allen, he forged the Taoiseach's signature and abused the Oireachtas free postage with the intention of getting re-elected, an aim which he achieved.

The fact of uttering the letter also perpetrated a calculated deception on the electorate, as the people who received them would have been led to believe that the Taoiseach had endorsed Allen and they could have been influenced by the deceit.

Essentially, he undermined the democratic electoral system for his advantage, and there is no way that the consequences of such a serious act should be left solely to whatever sanctions, if any, a political party might decide to impose.

Fianna Fáil is quite entitled to investigate all the circumstances, including finding out who facilitated Allen with the Oireachtas envelopes, but under no circumstances can it be the final arbiter.

Tánaiste Mary Harney thinks so as well and has told the Dáil that the Gardaí should investigate the fake letters. She said as much when she responded to Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, who raised a number of recent ethical lapses. Kenny also said he did not believe Mr Ahern should be dealing with the matter through the national executive of Fianna Fáil.

ODDLY enough, apart from two independent councillors who have spoken out on the matter, the silence from Wexford has been deafening. Despite Mr Kenny's concern about ethics, political expediency has led his party in the area to collaborate with Fianna Fáil and Labour to vote Lorcan Allen on to six positions on the council.

Independent County Councillor Padge Reck said he had attempted to have the matter raised at the annual general meeting of Wexford County Council but he was thwarted by standing orders.

Understandably, Allen's running mate in the election, Pat Rath, wasn't quite as sanguine as party headquarters about the episode. He said that the probe gave the Fianna Fáil party the ideal opportunity to make an ethical stand on the matter.

Their initial stance was absolutely incredible, because they had an opportunity to say to a young, educated electorate that they in Fianna Fáil stood for honesty and integrity and had banished the ghosts of the past. As Pat Rath said, it is a much bigger issue than him losing out on a seat.

"We had an opportunity here to show once and for all that we are a nation of the 21st century and that Fianna Fáil is an upright party. We have failed," he said.

It is hard to reconcile what appear to be the two sides of the Taoiseach. We saw him perform brilliantly in Europe, drawing together stubborn leaders, each with his own agenda, into agreement on the first EU constitution. He got his way with the compromise candidate for the Commission presidency. And in the meantime he hosted a controversial EU-US summit in Dromoland.

It was a tough presidency, but he delivered, as he said he would. He was brilliant, and is obviously a political leader of immense stature and respect throughout Europe.

But what happens when he's at home? He presides over a Government in which his ministers seem to do their own thing, to the detriment of the country. And when somebody forges his signature, he feebly deems it "inappropriate" conduct, rather than being outraged at the infringement and acting on it.

We badly need to see a lot more of the European side of Bertie Ahern.

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