Earlier today the Taoiseach said that he thinks the public believes his testimony at the Mahon Tribunal. As he arrived at Dublin Castle for another long day of interrogation, he was asked by reporters if he thought the public believed him.
All Mr. Smile, Bertie Ahern said: "Yes, totally."
It might well be that a certain portion of the population - especially the members and lifelong supporters of Fianna Fáil - would agree with this short statement of confidence. But an increasing number of people are seriously concerned about the Taoiseach and wonder if one can believe what he is saying about his personal finances. (And depending on that, if one can believe anything he says...)
We all have personal experience with earning and handling money, keeping books and accounts, and declaring and paying taxes. There is nothing particularly special about it, as we are all equal before the law and before the revenue commissioners. Or are we not?
Well, it appears that - like on George Orwell's "Animal Farm" - some people in Ireland are more equal than others. And, as seen with the late Charles Haughey, they get away with it if they just pretend long and stubbornly enough to be "innocent" or not to be able to remember certain things and events.
I don't know about you, but if I would receive a cheque over £5000, I would remember that, as well as the person, company or organisation it came from. So when Bertie Ahern tells the Mahon Tribunal that he cannot explain the source of a £5000-cheque cashed at the Irish Permanent building society on the very day his savings account was opened, its sounds strange, to say the least. After all, he is not some aged pensioner suffering from Alzheimer's disease, but our Prime Minister and leader of the largest political party in the country. And at the time in question he was Minister for Finance, responsible for the nation's wealth, the government's budget and the setting and collecting of our taxes. That a man with such high financial responsibilities, who is also a qualified accountant, cannot recall the origin of a £5000-cheque given to him is alarming.
Liar or Fool?
The questions asked by Judge Alan Mahon, his tribunal and the whole country are rather simple, but very important:
Is Bertie Ahern a liar?
Or is he a bumbling fool, unable to recall the source of a significant sum of money donated to him personally?
If he really lies about the cheque, for whatever reason, he could not be trusted with any other matter and should not be Taoiseach or hold any position of political power. And if he is unable to remember important financial transactions, the question needs to be asked if he is actually in command of all his faculties and able to lead the country, as well as if he was ever capable to head the Department of Finance. In both cases he should seriously consider to step down and make room for someone more able (and with much better memory).
One is compelled to agree with Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore, who said today that the Taoiseach's situation was now "a national embarrassment" and called on the Tánaiste and other ministers "to call time on his leadership".
Once again one would have also hoped to hear a word from the Green Party, whose coalition with Fianna Fáil keeps Bertie Ahern in office and power. But - once again - John Gormley and his people demonstrate that they crossed the line and moved completely into Bertie's camp, leaving behind their once sharp minds, critical remarks and sound judgments of Irish politics.
In English the Irish word Taoiseach means "Leader", just as it means Führer in German and Duce in Italian. But in clear contrast to its German and Italian equivalents, the word Taoiseach is not tainted by history - yet.
Should, however, Bertie Ahern become the second Irish Prime Minister - after Charles Haughey - to be found untrustworthy with money, or even corrupt and lying to a tribunal established by parliament, the word might well become the synonym for a corrupt leader, instead of meaning simply "Leader".
The Emerald Islander