It’s quietly sneaking up on us now, is the next Presidential election. It must be held, by law, by about the 26th of October, 2025. President Higgins, having charmed the public for fourteen long (at times apparently never-ending) years with his views on everything from Fidel Castro’s greatness to the immorality of homework, is ineligible for re-election, as he will have completed his two terms in office. Retirement, a pension, and, no doubt, regular lectures to the nation and Late Late Show appearances from that retirement beckon.
A hopeful cynic might suggest, then, that Bertie Ahern’s return to the Fianna Fáil fold this week was propitiously timed: Just far enough away from October 2025 that we may all have forgotten, by then, that he was deprived the status of Fianna Fáil member, and elder statesman, for the guts of a decade. Just distant enough to give him the chance, if he wants it, to take to the party’s rubber chicken circuit and re-ingratiate himself with the membership, who undoubtedly tire of seeing their party languish in the teens in most polling, and will be keen to re-live the glory days under Bertie, when 38% in an opinion poll would have been considered a terrible result. If he wants it, it would be a brave Fianna Fáil leader who would tell the membership that Bertie cannot have the party’s nomination.
It is not hard either to see the Bertie pitch for the Áras taking shape: The next election will be held just over a quarter century since the signing of his most lasting achievement, the Good Friday Agreement. It will come at a time when, for whatever reason, dreams of a united Ireland seem to be viewed as deeply realistic by a large section of the population. It will come, too, in the aftermath of an activist Presidency, where the departing incumbent has reshaped the institution into something of a soapbox for socialism. No doubt, there will be at least one candidate in the race who will promise us Michael D part two, and there’s a decent chance in my mind that many voters will welcome a quieter, more common, more statesmanlike alternative.
Who better than Bertie? The man will be able to argue, convincingly, that there is no other Irish Republican with his record of understanding and communicating with unionism, and that the country has no better advocate for unity by consent.
What’s more – and this will be unpopular with a section of readers, but it is true – he has a legitimate claim to have been our last really good Taoiseach. Really good, in the sense that when he left office, the country’s economy was booming, housing was widespread and reasonably affordable, crime levels were low, and the country was reasonably contented and had not yet been torn apart by constant culture wars. Perhaps, you might argue, he did sow the seeds of economic ruin – but he was not at the helm when those seeds sprouted.
Like it or not, there is a big section of the population who remember the Celtic Tiger as the glory days, and still credit Bertie for delivering it.
That leaves, of course, the tribunals. No doubt – and this is where the risk for him lies – there would be many in the media lying in wait to drag that all back up again. The winning of money on the horses. The alleged leaving of a secretary to take the rap. The absence of a bank account. The Bryan Dobson interview – all of it. A Bertie candidacy would be a carnival of righteous preaching by our friends in the media. We’d get endless soul-searching from the oracles of Tara Street and Donnybrook about what a Bertie win would say about us as a country, and so on.
I, for one, don’t really care. Well, that’s not true. I would care, if I thought this stuff really mattered in Ireland, but the fact is that it does not. Put me in the “they’re all at it, in ways big or small” camp.
Do I trust Bertie Ahern? Not really. Do I trust him ahead of the Government, or ahead of RTE, or the Irish Times, or the wokier than thou’s in the National Women’s Council or Amnesty Ireland, or some talking head from a university? Damn straight I do.
And frankly, I would take Bertie ten times over, ahead of some sermonising generic left-wing representative of the NGO sector, which trousers billions annually to preach at us without contributing anything of use to society at large.
With Bertie, I’d know what I was getting: A President who would not embarrass the country. A President who understood and understands the limits of the office. A President who doesn’t care enough about his own ideology to give us pious lectures every five minutes. A President who could actually do some good in the office, and have the good grace to do it quietly and with dignity.
So consider me on board. I might speak only for myself, or perhaps, a great many more people feel as I do on the topic.
But I’ll tell you one thing: I for one do not feel as if the governance of the country has improved since Bertie Ahern was driven from office. It’s been a spiral of mediocrity ever since. By no means would I seek to canonise him, but out of all the other potential options for the Presidency, we could (and probably will, sadly) do a lot worse.