Long-time readers will be aware that the Mahon Tribunal, and more specifically Bertie Ahern’s role in that tribunal, have been a bugbear of mine for some time.
Today, finally, we have the announcement that Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will resign on May 6. It is welcome news.
Mr Ahern spent much of his speech spelling out his contribution to Irish political life, and his service to the State. In the latter part he dealt with the allegations that have been his undoing. While I accept that Ahern made a contribution to the peace process, in no way does this mean that somehow he has a right to stay on in political office, nor does it excuse him from being accountable.
Cian rightly points out that it was not the media, bloggers, or even Facebook groups that led to the appalling vista of Ahern’s incredible tales and ultimate resignation. It was Ahern himself that got himself into this mess. And the only recourse, ultimately, was his resignation.
I have called for his resignation several times since his now infamous interview with Bryan Dobson in September 2006. In truth, we have spent nearly 20 months stewing over his changing stories, his incredible tales, and the sums of money involved in those tales kept growing.
As time went on it became clear that at the time he spoke to the nation on national television he had yet to tell the tribunal half of what we now know. Celia Larkin’s accounts only came to light in April 2007. Ahern changed his story in relation to the second digout during evidence in September 2007. The list goes on.
Increasingly, critics said the tribunal was no longer about the original allegation that Owen O’Callaghan gave cash to Ahern, that it had become some sort of vendetta. To some degree they are right on the former but wrong on the latter. Simply put, it was Ahern’s reaction to the tribunal’s inquiry that led directly to his resignation.
Indeed, if the Tribunal reported tomorrow and found that there were no corrupt payments it simply would not matter. Ahern’s changing positions on his own finances are what led to this result – as far as I can see he was caught up in a tangled web of his prevarications. It became less about the original allegation and more about what tribunal found – and Ahern’s response to those discoveries.
But I don’t see this as a victory for accountability. Ahern was dragged kicking and screaming to a resignation, when he really should have resigned a very long time ago. If, for example, PTSB had not found the documents that they did, Ahern would very likely still be clinging on to power, and brazening it for as long as possible – and to hell with standards or perceived standards in public life.
We have to ask ourselves what sort of society we want. One where the leader of our country spends an inordinate amount of time answering questions about vasts sums of money in his accounts, appoints friends to State jobs, takes cash from businessmen… and all the rest… or one where politicians do all of the above – but when found out resign immediately for the good of the country.
Ireland is a very long way from a democracy which is accountable to its people, and Ahern’s games around the tribunal have only served to bring the country into disrepute and to blacken the highest political office in the country.
Ahern, Taoiseach or not, has very serious matters to answer. Tribunal matters. Cash matters. Corruption matters. Criminal matters. How we deal with those matters, and how we punish wrongdoing in public office, will define our nation.
If we fall short in that regard, we all lose.