Fianna Fail must not make the same mistake with Bertie, that Labour have with Blair

1st May 2017, marked the 20th anniversary of the election of Tony Blair as British Prime Minister. For the current Labour Leadership, a huge part of their existence is owed to a repudiation of the Blair years with its mix of missed opportunities and misadventures such as the War in Iraq.

Fianna Fail and Ireland face another anniversary over the coming weeks as the 6th June marks the 20th anniversary of the 1997 General Election which brought Bertie Ahern to power as the head of a Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrat coalition.

Much like Blair, Ahern played on a youthful image with his posters proclaiming that he was a “young leader for a young country” and that he would put “People before Politics.”

Ahern racked up many achievements, becoming the first Taoiseach since Jack Lynch in 1969 to win re-election and the first since Eamon deValera to win three consecutive elections.

He oversaw huge leaps forward in the peace process with the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of devolution in May 2007.

Fast forward to 2017 and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge.

As he left office the economy began going south with a deep recession following that brought down the government and saw Fianna Fail lose 58 seats at the 2011 election.

For Bertie personally, there was a the Mahon Tribunal which led to his resignation from the party.

At a time when Fianna Fail is looking to get back into government, you might think whether even noting the Ahern era is a useful exercise.

However, it would seem to me to be a supreme act of folly to ignore the fact that one of your most electorally successful leaders, who was a key player in one of your most significant and increasing relevant achievements (Northern Ireland) is at a historic milestone.

Taking a “Don’t mention the war” approach has not worked terribly well for Labour, nor would it be any help to Fianna Fail. From Owen Jones to Alasdair Campbell, right and left of the party have remarked that part of their current difficulties has been that since 2010, Labour has failed to defend their record on spending and public services.

The current leadership of Fianna Fail cannot make the same mistake. With Brexit, the collapse of devolution and increasing relevance of issues such as infrastructure, it will be difficult for the party to claim any substantive credibility on these issues, if it does not point to the Ahern era and remind voters of things the party did right in government.

In making this argument, I don’t suggest for a moment that the party take a rose tinted view of the Ahern era either. It is important to highlight the many achievements of those years in power, but also to point out where lessons have been learnt. In areas such as taxation and spending, the current leadership will want to point out what it is doing differently today.

Former Government Press Secretary, Mandy Johnston remarked this about the party just shortly after the death of Albert Reynolds;

In general, Fianna Fail are not very good at dealing with their past and in some respects who can blame them. At the moment, the past for Fianna Fail is a bit like the war for Basil Fawlty – you just don’t mention it. In fearing everything to do with the past, they have become a political party who are without solid foundations as they attempt to carve out a new narrative for themselves. At times, they seem like a completely new party but they are not a new party, they have a rich, diverse and chequered history. Their problem is that they simply cannot figure out how to deal with their immediate past and – because they cannot – have abandoned their entire record.

Next month, will be a challenge for some in Fianna Fail, when in reality it is an opportunity. The Ahern years, did show the failings of the party, but it also demonstrated the difference between having a Fianna Fail led government and a Fine Gael one.

As the current government limps on with a divided leadership, the 20th anniversary of Bertie Ahern becoming Taoiseach is a prime occasion to remind people, that as a party mistakes were made, but substantive achievements were made also and at a time when big decisions will need to be taken in the future, it’s important to remind voters that it matters who sits in the Taoiseach’s office and around that cabinet table.


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  • Jag

    Blair is not Ahern (btw Blair will be at an important European Peoples Party meeting this week in the Republic where EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will be the star turn – Blair is still relevant).

    Blair’s legacy is tinged by Iraq. Never has it been said that Tony Blair himself personally benefitted from his decisions, at least not while in office. He may be guilty of poor political/military judgement but that’s very different to the Bertie enigma.

    David glanced over the Mahon Tribunal above.

    This Tribunal was looking at political graft and corruption, and found Bertie had received previously unaccounted-for money. Bertie, a former finance minister, claimed not to have a bank account. Bertie claimed to have won huge sums on the horses. Bertie remembered he had received “dig outs” from rich developers. Bertie will be best remembered for the Galway Tent, where the Irish elite attended the Galway races and visited the Fianna Fail marquee and were there photographed. The Irish public put 2 + 2 together. Bertie may never serve jail time, and indeed, he says he never ever took a bribe, but he is is toxic, not because of his political decisions, and, say his prepping the economy for a crash, but for his personal integrity.

  • Philip Murphy

    Spot on Jag. The man isn’t fit to hold public office. He’s corrupt. A monkey could have built the (still lacking in Dublin) infrastructure given the tax receipts. It was his complete failure to keep a lid on spending that I’ll never forgive him for. Look up “Partnership” for further info.

  • the rich get richer

    Ahern committed Economic Treason which is no where near as bad as Blair who committed actual Treason against his country .

  • CatholicLeft

    At the risk of bringing common sense into this debate, how did Tony Blair commit “actual Treason against his country”? According to the law “According to the law in force, it is treason felony to “compass, imagine, invent, devise, or intend”:

    to deprive the sovereign of the Crown,
    to levy war against the sovereign “in order by force or constraint to compel her to change her measures or counsels, or in order to put any force or constraint upon or in order to intimidate or overawe both Houses or either House of Parliament”, or
    to “move or stir” any foreigner to invade the United Kingdom or any other country belonging to the sovereign.

    In Northern Ireland alone, Treason is also: “attempting bodily harm to the king, queen, or their heirs apparent
    attempting to deprive them of their title;
    publishing that the sovereign is a heretic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the Crown;
    rebelliously withholding from the sovereign his fortresses, ships, artillery, etc.
    doing anything to endanger the sovereign’s person;
    doing anything which might disturb or interrupt the sovereign’s possession of the Crown.

    Which did Tony Blair contravene?

  • Robin Keogh

    Fianna Fail under Micheal Martin have worked hard over the past few years to try and distance itself from the Bertie brand Fianna Fail. They have done this because as far as the public are concerned, Fianna Fail squandered the wealth of the Celtic tiger years and developed a toxic relationship with the bankers, financiers and developers. The general perception of Bertie’s Ireland is one of greed, excessive spending in the wrong places, corruption and eventual crash. The GFA in fact doesn’t really figure despite the fact that Bertie was one of it’s main architects alongside Clinton, Blair, Adams and Trimble et al.

    Micheal Martin made a very conscience decision to relegate Bertie to the dustbin of history. He refuses to allow him rejoin the party and rejects out of hand Ahern’s patience and accommodation of Northern Republicanism. However, this is done in the face of a far greater electoral threat from SF than Ahern could ever possibly have anticipated. Bringing Ahern in from the shed and offering him a spot in the sunshine would serve to remind voters of two things, how willingly and how closely FF worked with SF in the past, and the role MM played himself in helping create the economic catastrophe. The last thing Martin needs right now is Ahern in the house.

  • AntrimGael

    Bertie Ahern’s contribution to the Peace Process, like Tony Blair’s, was immense. Without their contribution we wouldn’t be in the place we are today, with all it’s imperfections. Bertie travelled North on the day of his own mother’s funeral to close political deals and we should never forget his, and Blair’s, commitment to the GFA. Whatever judgement society has placed on both these individuals since then is for another day. We should ALL stand up and applaud Bertie Ahern and Tony Blair for actually caring for and showing such an interest in us.

  • Pang

    The past success of FF since the 30s has been part of the problem. We haven’t changed government often enough in the republic, and after the first flush of focus & action (FF & the GFA, FG & the economic recovery) they always go stale (FF & the Galway tent/boomier boom, FG now). What we should learn from Bertie’s record is to get them in and get them out, switch talented faces more often.