The shirt off your back
Haughey's shadow over Ahern's Fianna F‡il
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
"We are central to the political life of this nation". Of all the rhetoric in Bertie Ahern's televised leader's address at the Fianna F‡il ard fheis, this was probably the most accurate declaration. Fianna F‡il are central to Irish political life, but not in the way Ahern thinks.
For example, last week's public session of the Moriarty Tribunal gave just one glimpse of how Fianna F‡il has been central to political life. The tribunal was focusing on the spending habits of Charlie Haughey. Interestingly, it is not so long since Haughey's spectacular leadership addresses at Fianna F‡il ard fheiseanna. The acclamation for Haughey at ard fheiseana was a bizarre display, part cult idolatry and part mass hysteria, and now happily forgotten by the Fianna F‡il leadership.
'Arise and follow Charlie' was the tune played as Haughey took the podium. This week, though, the Haughey farce was being performed at Dublin Castle. Catherine Butler, Haughey's former private secretary, was giving evidence. Butler told the Tribunal how Haughey used the Department of Foreign Affairs diplomatic black box system for his own personal packages.
The black box system is a confidential postal service used by embassies around the world to mail confidential diplomatic correspondence between embassies and their home state.
Haughey used this diplomatic privilege for the delivery of his exclusive Charvet shirts. This procedure was maintained even through his years in opposition between 1982 and 1987.
Butler's evidence also confirmed that these shirts, which cost hundreds of pounds each, were paid for using the taxpayers' money as were Haughey's lavish dining bills from the Le Coq Hardi restaurant.
INTEGRITY IN POLITICS
That was then and now the tune is a different one. Ahern told the Fianna F‡il delegates that the party "remains deeply committed to integrity in politics, not withstanding individual lapses".
Maybe it is unfair to judge FF on the past lapses of the Dohertys and Haugheys or the Burkes, Flynns, Lawlors or Foleys. And Ahern did stress consistently his party's record of five years of coalition government. So how does the last five years show the centrality of Fianna Fail to Irish life?
On tax, Ahern boasted of how Fianna F‡il had reduced the tax burden. "Almost four out of ten income earners are now exempt from tax", he said. An impressive figure, but doesn't he know that 21% of 26-County workers subsist on low incomes?
Funny too that Ahern forgot to mention the huge cuts in tax on business profits and on capital gains tax, or the culture of avoidance and evasion created by successive Dublin governments. Here we are back in the past in the land of Haughey, Lawlor, Burke, Flynn and Foley again.
Lets look to the future and Fianna F‡il's "vision", where, "every community can prosper". They want to spread growth through the regions. Yet who is to blame for the damning gaps in road, rail, power and telecommunications infrastructure highlighted so well in the recent State of the West Report. It is not by accident that whole areas of the West are unable to be guaranteed continuity of power supply. This is the result of years of a deliberate policy of under investment, but by whom?
Ahern hyped up the extension of the gas network across the border and into the North West, conveniently forgetting the intense lobbying on Fianna F‡il it took for this very small step. He also overlooked the fact that we now have the buy back the Corrib gas to fuel this network, gas resources that a previous Fianna F‡il government gave away for nothing.
RICH AND POOR
Perhaps the strangest piece in the Ahern jigsaw of what he thought were the good things in the Ireland of today was that, "Those who talk about rich and poor, as if those were the only two classes, do no justice to Ireland's achievements as a society."
Could he be blind to the fact that of all the states in Europe, the 26 Counties has the second largest gap between low and high earners? Did he not read last week's ESRI report that found the last 14 budgets, 11 of which were Fianna F‡il's, actually widened the gap between rich and poor in this state?
No it seems that Bertie is oblivious to findings like these. Maybe that explains why he made the incredulous claim that Fianna F‡il had made a bold start in tackling health issues. No admission that it was Fianna F‡il cutbacks, never rescinded which threw the health service into crisis.
Ahern promised to, "deliver the blueprint and the funding for a world class, accessible and equitable health service". Great so nothing to worry about there then. The sad reality of Fianna Fail's 75 years of "building the republic", is that they haven't actually built one.
They have built a state full of vested interests, double standards, low standards, bad decision making and one that has created a society of rich and poor with a huge struggling middle, struggling with house prices, childcare costs, underfunded education, the list goes on. Those who cannot struggle just sink. They see a Fianna F‡il who would take the shirt from their back.
Fianna F‡il are central to Irish life - they are the central problem.