Monday, 1 October 2007
Irish politics is once again polarised. Bertie Ahern's account of how he obtained £30,000 in cash for his personal use when he was finance minister has divided the country. Fianna Fail politicians swear allegiance to their leader. The opposition smells a rat. The commentariat is split too, as yesterday's Sunday Independent showed with strong pieces by Brendan O'Connor (the case for the defence) and John Drennan (for the prosecution). I grew up in an Ireland where corruption bedevilled our politics, personified by Charles Haughey but exemplified in numerous cases of rezoning where councillors (and some senior politicians) enjoyed backhanders for their troubles. Whatever Bertie is supposed to have done seems tame by comparison, and opposition politicians are all too ready to shout 'fire' at the first whiff of a lit match in politics these days. Bertie enjoys enormous credit for his economic policies and his successes with Tony Blair in Northern Ireland. But his explanations for where he got all this cash are not yet good enough, nor are they clear enough. It is not sufficient to cite memory loss when so much cash is involved. He must provide a better explanation of the circumstances before the Tribunal ends. Or he must step down. Ireland cannot afford a return to the political culture of the eighties.