Out of Africa on Bert Force One

BERTIE Ahern’s back out of Africa fighting fit. The opponents who scent blood as they circle for the kill will find renewed vigour in their would-be prey as he makes it clear he does not intend to go anywhere in a hurry.

Indeed, even by African standards, the weather on planet Bertie at the moment is remarkably sunny.

The grumpy and mean-spirited attitudes that dominated his humour through 2007 seem to have died with the last chords of Auld Lang Syne.

His hasn’t forgotten his old acquaintances in Dublin Castle are gunning for him, but Mr Ahern appears in top form for the next stage of the battle.

The mood exuded by the Taoiseach on board his rented DC-9 — Bert Force One — was definitely chipper rather than chippy as it powered him across the continent.

Maybe it was the experience of visiting a leper hospital, but at one point the Taoiseach actually physically hugged a reporter from the Irish Daily Mail — a newspaper that makes no secret of its ambition to boot Bertie into the dustbin of political history as quickly as possible.

Watching Mr Ahern at close quarters one wonders how he will cope with his exit from office, which either by his own hand or those of others, must come at some point within the next two years.

The man lurches from one engagement to the next with dizzying speed and professionalism.

The forward thrust mentality probably also acts as a protection suit, never leaving him enough time to reflect fully on problems surrounding him, or indeed fully savour the successes that have come to him.

Unfortunately for Mr Ahern, the word that kept popping up as he snaked his way through Africa was “corruption”.

If it wasn’t for the magnificent Zanzibarian architecture and sweltering heat, he might as well have been in the gloomy bowels of Dublin Castle, as the Taoiseach shuffled uncomfortable as he answered questions about strange money movements in the 1970s.

This time it was an aid scam uncovered at the Bank of Tanzania before the transition to democracy.

Mr Ahern’s reply could be summed up as: “It was going on in a bank account a long time ago. Things are different now. Let’s move on.”

Exactly what he would love to say to judge Alan Mahon if he could get away with it.

Tanzania does seem to have cleaned up its act considerably since the 1970s and it would be naive not to think some aid will always be siphoned off somewhere.

But seeing the amazing work that Irish taxpayers fund in the slums of Dar-es-Salaam and the shanty towns of South Africa only re-enforces the fact it is a small price to pay as long as the bulk of it goes to saving babies from going blind, giving limbs to the limbless and taking families out of 10ft by 8ft corrugated shacks and handing them real homes via the Niall Mellon foundation.

Aid corruption also cuts both ways as the kick-back scandal currently rocking the ruling ANC in South Africa is a direct result of heavy pressure from Britain for the country — which faces no conceivable military threat, but can’t afford drugs for the one in four of its population infected with HIV — to spend €6 billion on arms. So much for Tony Blair’s much trumpeted “ethical foreign policy”.

And Irish voters are not above a bit of double-dealing themselves as they often appear to be sleeping partners in the political culture they claim to despise.

Maybe it is because the Irish system is so localised, but it is almost as if TDs are afforded an air-bag of irresponsibility as they are elected to the Dáil.

Driving drunk the wrong way up a dual carriage way? At least he didn’t kill anyone. Dodgy amounts of money going into bank accounts explained with the most fanciful stories? Sure, we’d all like to get away with something if we could and he doesn’t seem bent anymore.

Mr Ahern, and other TDs, know they can still ride that wave of public indifference. No wonder Bertie’s smiling.

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