By Con Houlihan
Sunday April 13 2008
It's a great pity that waffling isn't an Olympic sport. We could send a great team.
Patrick Pearse wasn't exactly waffling in his oration on Easter Monday but he was economical with the truth. Eamon de Valera wrote a great headline when he said that the Oath of Allegiance was an empty formula. This tradition had been well kept up.
Bertie Ahern was probably embarrassed by some of his defenders. Nevertheless, they were speaking in a language that he sometimes uses himself.
He was born into the working class and the Labour Party was his natural habitat, but like many bright young men he sought a different avenue. Seemingly he was influenced by Charlie Haughey's shallow charm and aura of power. For whatever reason he chose him as his godfather.
Even though Bertie was then very young, he should have seen that Haughey was rotten to the core. He was the central figure in one of the worst episodes in Irish political history: the bringing down of Jack Lynch was shameful and shameless. He was an honourable man and he had brought Fianna Fail to a position of great power. In looking back it seems incredible that he was deposed.
Money to Haughey was like blood to Dracula, but he was more than a robber and thief: by giving politics a nasty odour he eroded democracy. Why did nobody ever ask Bertie his reasons for staying loyal to such a leader? When the Provisional IRA were founded, Haughey wasn't very far away. Indeed he flaunted his "republicanism". All of our governments were soft with the Provos in that terrible era. The security at the border was often only nominal, but during Haughey's time as Taoiseach there was hardly any security at all. The gardai will tell you that. The awful truth is that the Republic was a launching pad and a safe haven for the "freedom fighters".
Bertie stayed loyal to Haughey to the very end and beyond: he gave him a State funeral and thus made a mockery of State funerals. He went even further: he told us that Haughey had been a patriot down to his fingertips. That statement showed no respect for the Irish people.
In another context it is hard not to fault Bertie: I am talking of course about the invasion of Iraq. Perhaps in this instance it is a case of collective guilt: seemingly everybody in the Dail agreed with him, but because he had so such power he must take most of the guilt. The American forces should never have been allowed to use Shannon, and so in a sense we must share some of the guilt for a grossly immoral invasion. I have said it before: when Bertie says his prayers at night, he should think of the little boy who was flown from Baghdad to London for surgery and who said, "Will my arm grow again?"
Some of our more vociferous journalists were all in favour of the invasion. Two of them said a few days after the bringing down of Saddam Hussein's statue that the "war" was over. It wasn't over and it will never be over, at least in the sense of some power being victorious.
Bertie Ahern has another bad mark on his form: the
bringing back of Beverley Flynn would be incredible in any country but this. While working for some bank, it is alleged that she conspired to defraud the State of revenue. She challenged the allegation and lost out. She appealed against the verdict and lost again and incurred an enormous debt to RTE. She solved this in a simple way: she paid less than half of it and said that she couldn't afford any more. This woman may not be technically bankrupt but she is morally bankrupt. Her father Padraig was correct: he said, "Beverley is a class act." She is. What class?
The decision to allow her back into Fianna Fail was unanimous. This casts a light on Brian Cowen. Obviously he voted for her and so we can expect a Taoiseach who is in the same cynical mould to which we are accustomed.
Our incoming Taoiseach has served in three senior ministries but hasn't been distinguished in any of them. His form figures in racing terms are zero, zero, zero. We can only hope that he is really the Golden Boy from whom great things are expected.
All his fellow ministers chose him as their new Taoiseach. This doesn't mean that he was really a unanimous choice: nobody opposed him because they feared it might come against them in the selection of the new Cabinet.
Brian Cowen is from Offaly, and this gives us some hope. I am going back to a never-to-be-forgotten Saturday in Croke Park when the followers of the Faithful County took on the hierarchy of Croke Park and won. Their hurlers were a few points behind when the referee ended the game with three minutes to go. Hundreds of followers came on to the pitch and voted with their backsides so that the remaining minutes could not be played. The game had to be refixed. Offaly won and went on to beat Kilkenny in the final. That day in Croke Park we saw a famous example of civil disobedience. It was compounded of courage and imagination. If Brian Cowen has those qualities, he will need them.
I can never think of Bertie Ahern as corrupt: I know that he is essentially a decent man, but he got caught up in a cynical culture and couldn't get away from it. Some of the men who gave him money are very well known to me. They gave it out of the goodness of their hearts because they believed that Bertie needed it. There was no crime in all this, but there is a moral. Politicians should be very wary of taking money for personal reasons. Bertie's finances became as entangled as a ball of wool thrown to a frenzy of kittens. I doubt if they will ever be properly cleared up.
The Americans cannot win in Iraq -- they are fighting an enemy whom they cannot see. They couldn't win in Korea because the subsoil in North Korea is so sandy that the enemy had no difficulty in tunnelling -- the Americans never knew whether they were in front of them or behind them. In Vietnam the jungle made victory impossible. In Iraq the Americans will eventually have to move out. It will be a massive loss of face, but there is no alternative. How the continuing war will affect the election we do not know, but it seems that the Democrats are too divided to avail of the Republicans' discomfiture.
The story of Robert Mugabe is almost 30 years old now: the hero of the liberal West continues to disgrace himself. The British should be ashamed that they didn't move in there long ago. They allowed people who are morally their own citizens to be robbed of farms which had been in their families for generations. We remember two years ago how the "veterans" burned down thousands of acres of corn and almost created a famine. I had friends in Zimbabwe who worked hard there and gave the state great service and were eventually driven out. I met men and women in London who had suffered this fate. They were
very sad and very lonely and very angry because their own government in Britain hadn't come to their aid.
It will take Zimbabwe generations to recover because so many of the educated middle class have been driven out.
There was a similar situation in Kenya after independence. Another hero of the liberal West, Jomo Kenyatta, became almost dictator. One of his first acts was to drive out the Indians and the Pakistanis on the pretext that they were robbing the country. Kenya is now one of the poorest countries in Africa. There is a great difference between independence and freedom.
Another great freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela, hardly distinguished himself in the context of Zimbabwe. That country is landlocked and depends for a great deal of its electricity on South Africa. Mandela could have put manners on Mugabe. He never did.
The situation in Zimbabwe and in Kenya is being repeated in many parts of Africa. I never worked in Africa but I taught Nigerian students. They were bright young men and very aware of their continent's troubles. They stressed to me time and again that the concept of democracy is almost unknown in Africa and that it will take a lot of time to take root and bear flower. It is the only hope for that troubled continent.
Some native philosophers have argued that there is a case for recolonisation. That is hardly feasible but there are justifications in some cases, especially in Zimbabwe, for intervention.
A barmaid in a pub in the Mile End Road brought down the Kray Empire in London; a modest woman, not unknown to me, tore away the last vestiges of credibility from Charlie Haughey. Why did the Fianna Fail party allow him to go on his way for so long?