It appears that Bertie Ahern (or someone close to him) has read yesterday's entry and my advice. * And, for once, the Taoiseach has obviously listened to the impartial advice I have offered him.
Standing down on his own terms and at his own time of choosing, will give him the chance to retain some dignity and also the chance to be remembered for the undoubtedly good things he has done and been responsible for over the years, especially the peace settlement in the North. In many ways Bertie Ahern would be a very positive example for a man from the grassroots who has made it to the top and stayed there for longer than most. This is also the reason for his undiminished popularity with many common people.
But sadly Mr. Ahern, who spent ten years as the political leader of this country and several years previously as the Minister for Finance, was not able to keep his own personal finances in order. This has haunted him for quite some time now, and eventually it has led him to announce his resignation - effective on May 6th - today.
Had we not had Charles J. Haughey stealing money from the country and not paying his taxes while a senior minister and Taoiseach, it might be possible that Bertie Ahern would have got away with his muddled finances. But as much Haughey was Ahern's mentor and helped him up the political ladder, in the same way Haughey's dark shadow hangs over the Taoiseach and it always did.
I think his choice to go early - even before the summer recess as I had suggested yesterday - is a final positive step on a long journey that was often difficult and covered in question marks. The Taoiseach has said that he "never took a corrupt payment", and until someone can provide the evidence for the contrary, we have to take this statement at face value. He also announced that he would defend his position "vigorously" in the Mahon Tribunal, and that is his good right.
But with all possible empathy one could have for him, it has also to be said that if anyone else in Ireland had acted financially as he has for many years, both Revenue Commissioners and Garda Siochana (Ireland's Police) would be after him and he might well be in prison. And in a free and fair democratic country everyone has to be equal before the Law.
It is unacceptable that the Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, who is ad officio in charge of the Revenue Commissioners and would send them after ordinary people with muddled finances, has special rules for himself and his own financial situation. There will be many - especially in Fianna Fail - who will try to portray Bertie Ahern now as a kind of martyr who fell on his own sword in order to save the party. Such is inappropriate and more than foolish. We have to accept the facts and see things as they are: After using every possible way to avoid facing the music, the Taoiseach has run out of steam, arguments and probably also friends. So he is going, with his reputation damaged but still somewhat intact, before he could be dragged down and torn apart by his political opponents. Fine, and good luck to him.
The important thing is now to focus on the next Taoiseach - most likely Tanaiste Brian Cowen - and his general attitude towards politics and the country. His first test will be the forthcoming Referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. But it also will be important to watch if the new leader of the country will be a more fair, decent and trustworthy person than the one who has just announced his resignation on May 6th.
The Emerald Islander
P.S. - It is quite amazing that all leading journalists in this country, including the political editors and parliamentary correspondents of every national newspaper and of RTÉ, were completely surprised by this morning's announcement. Anyone who can read the signs of political change and public opinion should have been aware that a resignation of Bertie Ahern was imminent and inevitable.
* This is not a joke or empty assumption. I have regular readers of this weblog from computers marked irl.gov (Irish government) and one of them was reading yesterday's entry early this morning.