Belfast Telegraph

Friday 25 July 2014

Why we will miss boul Bertie

Ian Paisley, Robert Mugabe, Bertie Ahern € they've been going down like nine-pins of late. (Although granted, Mugabe may not be going quietly.) Everywhere you turn it's a changing political landscape. And with the departure of Bertie certainly the end of an era in Ireland.

The Irish Independent even went back to broadsheet to cover the story this week - an indication of the historical importance it attached to the resignation of the three times Taoiseach.

There is no doubt that whatever the allegations against him, Bertie leaves a considerable legacy. In the South. In the North. And in relations between the two parts of the island.

In the South he will be forever associated with the Celtic Tiger years. The era when Ireland came of age economically - and left the rest of the British Isles trailing in its wake. It was a time of self confidence and prosperity. They were good years for the country. Good times with which any leader would want to be associated.

Up here he came in as Bertie the Anorak. A sort of blokey unknown quantity. He looked a wee bit like a gangly version of Rodney Bewes from the Likely Lads.

He seemed a likeable lad though.

Bertie's legacy was partly in our peace process. And whatever you think of the integrity of that process, the man's commitment to it was obvious, genuine and beyond dispute.

He left his mother's graveside to come up here and help chivvy along the search for agreement. That was personal. That, in the eyes of many here, will continue to be regarded as the mark of the man.

Was his greatest legacy in the North, though, his role in forging an understanding with unionism?

Before Bertie, Taoisigh did not have an impressive record in outreach work to the northern Prod.

Ahern, as much a staunch republican as any of his predecessors, still managed to move beyond traditional boundaries.

Ian Paisley, the man who once showered snow on a former Taoiseach, this week showered a Taoiseach with tribute. The thaw between northern unionism and southern republicanism is, in that respect impressive.

But there is still an awful lot that needs to be done to widen understanding between the people who live on both parts of this island. Will Ahern's successor be up to that role?

An interesting and telling aspect of Bertie's progress in the North was that it had a lot to do with the fact that he was a personable and approachable man. In that sense he will be a daunting act to follow.

Tainted by sleaze allegations? Depends on how you look at it ...

For up here, thanks to the process in which Bertie played such a prominent role, we now are forced to accept into government and into public life, people whose crimes rank way, way beyond anything the boul Bertie has ever been accused of.

Put it like this: Bertie Ahern; he never murdered anybody.

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