“THERE’S nothing as ‘ex’ as an ex-taoiseach,” Jack Lynch once remarked. That has been certainly true of Bertie Ahern. Apart from running for the Presidency, there is nowhere for a former Taoiseach to go in public life in Ireland and remain central to national affairs.
Unlike Éamon de Valera and others, Bertie did not have the option of heading for ‘The Park’. When the economy collapsed soon after he resigned as taoiseach in April 2008, his status tumbled as quickly as the economy. He went from Celtic Tiger hero to Recession zero almost overnight.
The most popular taoiseach since Lynch, Bertie was an affable and engaging politician who clearly enjoyed the warm and friendly greetings he got wherever he went, whether it be at an All-Ireland final or enjoying a pint at Fagan’s, his local pub in Drumcondra, the heartland of his constituency.
It was clearly difficult for him to be forced to retreat from the public gaze when he found himself being booed at football matches, receiving hate letters and, on one occasion in 2013, attacked in a Dublin pub by a man with both a crutch and a grudge.
Bertie has been away from the political centre of things since he resigned as taoiseach in May 2008 in the wake of revelations made by the Mahon Tribunal. However, he remained a member of Fianna Fáil for another four years. In 2012 the tribunal found that he had not been truthful in his evidence to it and that he had received money from developers. Rather than be expelled, Bertie resigned.
But now, there is the prospect of a domestic political comeback for Bertie. Fianna Fáil in his constituency of Dublin Central are to ask him to rejoin the party. A motion to invite Mr Ahern to rejoin Fianna Fáil was proposed at the party’s Dublin Central members’ meeting and was passed unanimously.
But will the former Teflon Taoiseach really make a comeback to the domestic political scene?
Unlikely, for a number of reasons. Firstly, Bertie was abroad when the branch meeting was held and apparently knew nothing about it, though that is debatable. As well as that, there is no process of returning to the party by invitation. As a Fianna Fáil statement yesterday made clear, he is the same as any citizen and must apply for membership to be considered.
There is also bad blood between him and party leader Michéal Martin. It was he who was about to propose his expulsion from Fianna Fáil before he resigned and it is he who will have the final say as to whether he can return.
Unlikely, but not impossible, given the current state of the party. Fianna Fáil is more than a single individual and the reality is that it has failed to regain lost ground in key constituencies, particularly in Dublin. In order to do that, it needs a hugely popular and populist local advocate. Bertie Ahern could fulfill that role and Micheál Martin might find it impossible to ignore pressure at party branch level to allow him back into the fold.
If that happens, It could well be Bertie’s finest stroke ever.
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