Fianna Fail and possession of the state…

There’s been a lot of good journalism flooding the market in the wake of Bertie Ahern’s pre-announcement of his resignation. Fintan O’Toole’s borrows from Charles de Gaulle’s famous line, l’état c’est moi’ as a marker both of Ahern’s and Haughey’s premiership. Ironically, the former French president was also a (albeit a more distant one) scion of rural Ireland. For all the Ahern symbolised a significant brake with the past, O’Toole argues, in one respect he was the same as his one time mentor:

The notion of “l’état c’est nous” and thus, for the leader, “l’état c’est moi” never left him. The righteous fervour that made him King of the Poster Boys combined with the sense of personal entitlement he imbibed from Haughey to create for Ahern a fatal lack of distance between himself and the State he supposedly served. That identification of himself with the State was manifested when he decided, even though he was still married, to install his “life partner” as an official First Lady. It was hinted at when he tried to create a monument to his own sporting tastes by spending €1 billion of public money on the Bertie Bowl.

It showed when he announced, in all innocence, that he appointed his friends to State boards, not because they gave him money, but simply because they were his friends. It showed in the way he hung on to office long after his departure became inevitable, allowing the business of government to be held hostage to his personal drama.

It appeared in his willingness to allow all his senior ministers to sacrifice their credibility, and therefore the dignity of their offices, in their slavish defence of his.

It showed above all when he excused his acceptance of private donations while he was minister for finance by reference to his family circumstances, as if it were obvious to all that a crisis in his private life was a national emergency. When, in his resignation speech on Wednesday, he explained his extraordinary financial dealings in the mind-1990s by the fact that “my family, personal and professional situations were rapidly changing”, the elision of the personal and the political was striking.

THIS INABILITY TO separate his private comforts and interests from the high offices of State he occupied lies behind his apparently genuine belief that, as he reiterated on Wednesday, “I have done no wrong”. It is an attitude directly inherited from Charles Haughey, who remained, to his grave, sincerely unrepentant. At its root is the notion that, at least in its highest reaches, power is personal. It inheres, not in the office, but in the office holder. And it does not therefore matter much if the person holding it departs from the standards he sets down for others. Right and wrong are not objective categories, but expressions of what is good or bad for the person in power.

, ,

  • Kevin

    I think it was Louis XIV who came up with “l’etat c’est moi” Mick, not Charles de Gaulle.

  • “I have done no wrong”

    Is this one he ‘borrowed’ from Ian Paisley jnr? 😉

    “I can’t express strongly enough that I am not going because of some hidden or some revealed wrongdoing,”

    “The criticism has been a distraction and has got in the way of the activities of this government and importantly it has gotten in the way of the activities of my political party.”

    “Greater Love Has No Man Than To Lay Down His Political Life For His Friends” [Gospel According to Bertie 15:13]

  • sammaguire

    I think it was O’Toole who said “le pompous prick c’est moi”.

    Did he expect Bertie to bring his estranged wife on the foreign trips? Would have been as good as Charles and Diana in China! Celia should have been paid by the State if anything; she represented us excellently. Certainly they weren’t on holidays.

    As to the “Bertie Bowl” poor Fintan doesn’t seem to realise that there’s a few of us oy here in the real world who actually prefer sport to reading Beckett. An 80,000 seater makes far more sense long term than the new 50,000 seater at Lansdowne (How many of the soccer/rugby games at Lansdowne have had attendances as low as 50,000?). The shallow thinkers won out I’m afraid.

    Yes the same shallow thinkers that knock everything that’s worth doing especially if initiated by FF (who are apparently self obsessed with power we’re told).

    Yes shallow thinkers. The same people that opposed the development of Government Buildings (“Charlie’s Taj Mahal”),opposed the development of the hugely successful Knock Airport (a “white elephant” of course) and also objected to granting Ryanair an airline licence on the grounds that we’re a small island and couldn’t possibly support two airlines.

    Yes shallow thinkers.

    Keep your head up Bertie! FTB as Behan might say!!

  • King Rollo

    O’Toole is bang on the nail. There is no place in any modern democracy for the likes of Haughey etc, who it is alleged made millionaires out of their old mates.

    That old trick, now popular in Russia, of selling off state assets at stupid prices to sharks, who subsequently become multi-millionaires and are acclaimed as being geniuses when they reinvest those millions in property etc.

  • Dewi

    That De Gaulle link fascinating. First I’ve ever heard of De Gaulle’s Irish links.

  • sammaguire

    As to the “Bertie Bowl” poor Fintan doesn’t seem to realise that there’s a few of us out here in the real world who actually prefer sport to reading Beckett. An 80,000 seater makes far more sense long term than the new 50,000 seater at Lansdowne (How many of the soccer/rugby games at Lansdowne have had attendances as low as 50,000?). The shallow thinkers won out I’m afraid.

    Posted by sammaguire on Apr 06, 2008 @ 03:31 PM

    Lansdowne should have read Croke Park obviously.

  • Greenflag

    Dewi,
    ‘That De Gaulle link fascinating. First I’ve ever heard of De Gaulle’s Irish links.

    There was also a General McMahon who was one of the prominent French generals at the Sedan when nthe French were outnumbered and outmanouvered by the Germans . One of our family ancestors fought in that battle (on the victorious side) of course . General McMahon later became President of France . Many of the Irish ‘wild geese’ served in the armies of France , Austria , Spain and in Germany pre 1870. Those who fought with the French mostly supported the Royalists at the time of the French Revolution .

    I had to wait until I studied French in school to find out about De Gaulle’s Irish link although I seem to recall the name ‘Lynch’ being the connection. Our teacher who was from France imparted this bit of trivia .

    O’Toole is a pompous cactus spike . Bertie was no De Gaulle . De Gaulle never drank pints in the Cat and Cage in Drumcondra :)He never went to Old Trafford to support Man Utd either :)?

    sammaguire ,

    ‘An 80,000 seater makes far more sense long term than the new 50,000 seater at Lansdowne (How many of the soccer/rugby games at Lansdowne have had attendances as low as 50,000?). ‘

    Right sammy . The GAA will be laughing all the way to the bank when the IRFU comes looking to rent Croke Park again even when Lansdowne is finished .

  • Prince Eoghan

    I thought so too Dewi, though we are into that kind of stuff.

    Not many Welsh flags at wembley today.

  • jerryp

    Have just read the article. Makes a refreshing change from all the sickening fawning throughout the media this weekend.The canonisation of Aherne will be knackered by the time he’s finished with the tribunal.

  • Dewi

    “Not many Welsh flags at wembley today”

    Cardiff City tend to use St David’s cross – don’t know why – don’t knnow a lot about soccer to be honest….but we (!!) won!

  • sammaguire

    Good luck in the final Dewi!

  • Oilifear

    Bang on. Bertie wasn’t sinister in the sense that Haughey was, but he was tainted by that era and its curuption lived on through him. One of the better comments I heard last week was that Bertie’s failing was to uphold in himself the same values that he demanded of others. Eventually, it was this lack of self-awareness and the fawning “uno duce, uno voce” character of Fianna Fail – that Fianna Failer even boasted of during the Haughey era (and can be seen in the unopposed nomination of Cowen where the parliamentary party were warned to be “adult” about succession) – that got him.

    I don’t think that Fianna Fail will ever be able to rid itself of this ailment. It is so deeply held among among the grass roots that every member, no matter their ability, is a carrier of the gene.

    “Cardiff City tend to use St David’s cross – don’t know why …”

    I believe it was a Cardiff businessman that popularised it in the mid-90’s by giving it away free at Cardiff City games.

  • Oilifear

    Correction: “… Bertie’s failing was not to uphold in himself the same values that he demanded of others …”