Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Ahern just couldn't tell right from wrong

In all but his inability to exhibit the slightest sign of moral superiority, Bertie Ahern truly embodies the characteristics of Irishness. That is why people liked him: they saw in him a reflection of their own flawed selves — but lacking that lethal Irish desire to judge, to condemn, and if need be, to destroy.

If there was a greengrocer who served Captain Boycott out of pity, or an opponent of divorce who sided with Parnell, or a local who did business with a Jew in Limerick, or a Catholic who bought from a Protestant shopkeeper in Fethard — their names were Ahern.

The fundamental decency which made Bertie Ahern so genuinely popular was accompanied by a genuine and pathological failure to see right from wrong.

This is so widespread within Irish society that it is genuinely invisible to most people.

Moral fudging is not seen to be moral fudging, but rather a form of virtue.

At its most spectacular, this moral fudging lies at the heart of the entire cult of the 1916 Rising.

After all, this uses the greatest feast in the Christian calendar to celebrate the removal of the most central commandment of all — Thou Shalt not Kill — from the Decalogue, just three days after the solemn mourning over Christ's own murder. Bertie Ahern was central to the re-elevation of this celebration of a terrible and catastrophic event into the annual State calendar.

He — like so many genuinely decent people — genuinely does not see the grotesque moral inconsistency here.

Indeed, a strange moral myopia is actually the consistent theme in Irish public life.

Eamon de Valera raised fortunes in the US both for 'Ireland' and The Irish Press, vast amounts of which disappeared into his personal and family coffers.

And this is before we come to Charles Haughey, whose depraved extravagance both defies description and redefined the boundaries of corruption so spectacularly that nothing which followed could compare. Do I think that Bertie Ahern received money that he should not have done? Yes, I do. Do I think that Bertie Ahern believes this? No, I don't.

Whatever money came his way in the 1990s seems — in his mind — to have conformed with the ethos of the times, in which so many politicians were receiving backhanders. The motto ran thus: 'They're all at it, so why shouldn't I have my piece of action also?'

But such moral inconsistency is not confined to the political classes; it infects the new priesthood of our media.

How else can one explain the quite startling appearances of Frank Connolly and Eamon Dunphy in the media, pontificating upon Ahern's misdeeds?

I do not blame them for this: after all, they are what they are. But what about broadcast producers and editors who choose them as commentators on this affair?

Only a species which has lost all sense of irony or historical reality would look for a voice of moral authority from a consorter with FARC terrorists, or a self-proclaimed cocaine user with a number of driving convictions, including drink-driving.

And the really beautiful thing is that these media-bishops are utterly unaware what they are doing: truly the arrogance of a new hierarchy, with their croziers of their airwaves, and their mitres of column inches.However, placed in the political context, this culture of selective moral myopia has its uses.

Most spectacularly, it enabled the peace process to come to its current status: and central to that has been Bertie Ahern's moral fluidity.

Indeed, he was in the forefront in the creation of a political contract which has chosen to exclude terrorists from the consequences of their deeds.

I believe that the result is a corrupt, unethical polity in Northern Ireland, in which virtue and moderation have been rewarded with political extinction.

But what do I know?



Not very much, clearly, for I swore that the DUP would never go into government with Sinn Fein.

And maybe constructive ambiguity is the sane and sensible approach to otherwise intractable human problems: in which case, Bertie Ahern was right not to seek to punish Sinn Fein-IRA for their many sins, and I was wrong and priggish and unrealistic.

Time will tell.

Yet we need not another second to say that the media class which has spent so much time seeking to destroy Ahern actually embodies the very same moral inconsistency of which it accuses him.

But assuredly, it does not embody his virtues. For Bertie Ahern joined no lynch mob, spoke ill of no one, thought himself superior to no man, and dedicated his entire life to public service.

I certainly cannot speak so well of myself, nor of any other man or woman I know.

Bertie Ahern's place in history is therefore safe, no matter what might finally emerge from within the ponderous meanderings of the Mahon Tribunal.

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