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The Most Useless, Most Spineless, Most Pointless Of Them All

Ciarán Irvine

An Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern.

Fresh from an overwhelming General Election victory, faced with a divided, diverse and weak Opposition, the time is ripe for an evaluation of this most enigmatic of leaders. Given that Bertie can confidently look forward to a further 5 years in power (for there are plenty of willing Independents should the PDs decide to bolt), what conclusion can we draw from his existing record - and what can we look forward to in the governance of the 26 Counties in the years to come?

To be blunt, Ahern is a failure. The damage done to the economic and social fabric of the country from his first 5 years may take decades to resolve - and we have 5 more years of bungling incompetence to come. In the grand scale of Taoisigh, in my opinion, Ahern must rank near the bottom. Yes, worse than John Bruton, Garret Fitzgerald, Jack Lynch, even (God help us) Liam Cosgrave. Bruton and Fitzgerald, for all their economic foolishness and weak-kneed approach to the matter of the Six Counties were at least socially progressive. Lynch failed the country spectacularly in 1969, started the long slide into poverty that devastated the 1980’s in the south, and opened the door to Il Duce Haughey to rise to power - on any measure he was a disastrous Taoiseach, despite the bletherings of the Church of Jack in the Dublin media. And Cosgrave Jnr - the less said about his narrow-minded, repressive parade of clowns (who could forget The Cruiser, Red Richie Ruin, “Thundering Disgrace” Donegan, to mention just three of that ill-stared Cabinet) the better. Yet I must seriously consider ranking Bertie below even these two paragons of Irish political failure.

The reasons are many - yet foremost among them is that Ahern has managed, single-handedly, to waste the greatest Irish economic boom in centuries. A good Taoiseach, in such times of plenty, and from such a secure political position, would have used the cash (and power) to resolve all the myriad problems that plague southern Irish society. Yet the ludicrous planning system, the overly-centralised system of government with its arrogant civil service, the pathetic state of local councils, the increasingly out-of-control Gardai, the collapsing health service, the under funded education service (with many children still being taught, 40 at a time, in leaky substandard classrooms by undereducated and unaccountable teachers), the lack of childcare facilities, the inability of most young people to aspire to their own home, the wholesale destruction of one of the richest environments in Europe, the frankly criminal “public transport” system…..

All problems that existed before Ahern’s ascension as Taoiseach, true. But he has been in power for 5 years now. What has actually been done on any of these matters? Nothing. Most of them have got even worse on his watch.

Instead, over the last 5 years, southern Ireland has become the second most expensive country in the EU to live in - with average industrial wages still 30% below the EU average. The gap between rich and poor in Irish society widens at an ever-increasing rate. And the litany of failure, incompetence, and sheer gombeenery continues.

On Ireland’s position internationally, Ahern has done irreparable harm with the joining of the NATO so-called “Partnership for Peace” (undemocratically, without the promised referendum); the highly dangerous provisions of the Nice Treaty; and most recently the cutting of our international Aid budget to the poorest countries of the world. Ireland, to the rest of the world, used to stand for something - against war, belligerence, imperialism, and exploitation of the poor. No longer. Ahern has done away with such old-fashioned notions, they being incompatible with the dictates of global capital. Our official position as a “neutral” nation is now nothing more than a sick joke.

Consider the lamentable Eircom saga. Small savers throughout the 26 are still smarting over that debacle - possibly one of the greatest relative income redistributions in favour of the State and the already-wealthy in modern European history. Those who bought Eircom shares when it was floated may wish to ponder exactly what was done, and what happened to their hard-earned money…

First of all, in the modern economic era, any nation has two primary strategic assets - the education system and the telecommunications infrastructure. Far more than roads, rail, tax breaks and so on, these are the two most critical factors for any international or indigenous company wishing to set up shop and trade from Ireland. From being the most advanced telecoms infrastructure in Europe in the 1980s, Ireland now has one of the worst - the rollout of broadband (or lack thereof) being an increasingly important factor in the accelerating decline in multinational investment in Ireland. Yet Ahern cheerfully handed control over this vitally strategic national resource to unaccountable multinationals - ripping off the ordinary people in the process.

And what was done with the money? It went to the national pension fund. Ostensibly a good idea - one whose purpose is to ensure that the money is available to fund State pensions for all citizens long into the future. Of course, it depends on how the money is invested. The National Pensions Board, in charge of making those investment decisions, was headed by none other than Mr Donal Greaney, head of Elan Corporation - a company whose stock has lost 95% of its value over the last year, and is now under investigation for accounting “irregularities” - like Enron, WorldCom and others.

This Board of geniuses - appointed by Ahern’s Government - proceeded to put all the money into stocks. This is after the stock market slide had started in the US, when anyone with the slightest knowledge of such things could see that stocks globally were hugely overvalued, and a prolonged bear market was on the way. This act of criminal negligence - with the money of the hard-working people of Ireland - has resulted in the National Pension Fund - set up to ensure all our futures in old age - losing 25% of its value. Yes folks, a full quarter of the money stolen from the people by Ahern has been lost, forever, by Ahern’s lackeys, and all our old ages are looking bleaker because of it. What is being done about this grand act of theft/stupidity/negligence/incompetence? Why nothing, of course.

Eircom, in my opinion, sums up the nature of Ahern’s “governance”. Look after the boys, make sure all those who contribute to the election funding get their well-paid government posts, kowtow to the whims of any and all international companies or transnational institutions, make sure you stay in charge and above all do nothing that might actually benefit the ordinary people.

To my mind, any Taoiseach has two primary overriding tasks - to ensure the independence, stability and security of the State; and to look after the long-term welfare of the Irish people. Ahern has manifestly failed to do either. He is unfit to be Taoiseach. And if he had any honour or decency he would resign immediately.

Don’t hold your breath.

And look forward to much worse to come.






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If you stand up and be counted, from time to time you may get yourself knocked down. But remember this: A man flattened by an opponent can get up again. A man flattened by conformity stays down for good.
- Thomas J. Watson, Jr

Index: Current Articles

18 August 2002


Other Articles From This Issue:


Unidentified Mob Rule
Aine Fox


The West Belfast Feile
Newton Emerson


The Most Useless, Most Spineless, Most Pointless of Them All
Ciarán Irvine


North Belfast: A Resident's View
Joan Totten


A Tawny Sinew
Anthony McIntyre


Deepest Sympathy


Ahmed Al Kouraini
Sam Bahour


A Personal Voyage of Taboo

Davy Carlin


Reading Connolly
Liam O Ruairc


15 August 2002


Put Spotlight On Republican Aims
Eamonn McCann


No Hierarchies Here!
Anthony McIntyre


Freedom to Dissent

Dorothy Robinson


Freedom of Whose Speech?
Paul A. Fitzsimmons


Political Intimidation
Anthony McIntyre


Class War is Over!
Billy Mitchell




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