The most ruthless, the most devious, the most cunning of them all
-Charles Haughey, former Taoiseach
Taoiseach since 1997, Bertie Ahern faced the jury again Friday (May 17, 2002). Of the party leaders, he is by far the most popular. The party he leads, Fianna Fáil, has come close to an overall majority.
Bertie Ahern began life in a working class area of Dublin on September 12, 1951. His parents were staunch republicans and Fianna Fáil supporters. His father Cornelius Ahern fought with the IRA in the Irish War of Independence. Bertie was brought up in a staunchly Catholic environment. He attended St. Aidan's Christian Brothers and still regularly attends Church. He played football up to recently and supports Manchester United with a passion. In fact, it is said that he took the date of Ireland's first game in the World Cup into consideration when calling this election.
Bertie (it seems wrong to refer to him in a more formal manner) was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1977 serving under then Taoiseach Charles Haughey. He became Opposition Chief Whip in 1982 and was also the (largely ceremonial) Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1986. He was promoted to Minister of Labour in the last Haughey government.
His skills as a negotiater were soon recognised by Haughey. He was instrumental in reaching agreements with the trade unions on the future management of the economy. It was programmes such as the Programme for Economic and Social progress which, many claim, nutured the chrysallis (OK, mixed metaphor) from which the Celtic Tiger later grew. His skills at backroom dealmaking meant he was on the Fianna Fáil team that persuaded the breakaway Progressive Democrat party to form a coalition in 1989. He also helped in forming the coalition with Labour in 1993.
His stints as Minister of Finance brought him wider public recognition. The image that has stuck firmly in many peoples mind is of Bertie brandishing the Budget day briefcase while wearing an unstatesmanlike anorak. He has always
projected a 'man of the people' image and still shares a pint with the regulars at his Drumcondra local (though the anorak has been dumped for Louis Copeland suits). Fianna Fáil, recognising that Bertie is their main electoral asset has plastered his smiling face liberally on the nation's lampposts.
During his term as Taoiseach, the nation has enjoyed unprecedented economic growth, far above the European average and over 10%, in terms of GDP, for two years. Bertie went into office as Ireland's youngest Taoiseacah and also the first one to live openly with a woman (Celia Larkin) other than his wife (Catholic shocker!). Bertie's great achievement was his part in negotiating the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland which promises the best chance for peace in decades. However, he has been dogged by scandals within his own party. Several members of Parliament have been implicated in land-zoning scandals, secret offshore bank accounts and other such nefarious goings on. Bertie has often been reffered to as the 'Teflon Taoiseach' since none of the mud thrown seems to stick to him. His memory of such dubious events during Haughey's reign has been conveniently cloudy.
Three days before the election Bertie locked horns with Michael Noonan on a TV debate. His lack of oratorial skills was evident but this did not significantly impair his personal ratings. Following the election, Fianna F´il gained yet more seats and Bertie must now decide whether to form a coalition with the Progressive Democrats again.