Bertie: Portrait of a Politician under Suspicion

Article excerpt

As many commentators have pointed out, the mass media has helped to shrink the world to a global village, producing new forms of social relationships where people appear to achieve 'intimacy at a distance' with famous people. Richard Dyer for example, notes that the media construction of stars encourages us to think in terms of what they are 'really like', and to uncover the 'real' person behind the public appearance. Such examination of the star system and modern society's growing fixation and fascination with a wide range of stars can also be applied in some measure to the media persona of the politician and former taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

With frank and deeply revealing interviews from family, political colleagues, former constituency activists and commentators, this new four-part series asks: who really is Bertie Ahern?

The promotional blurb goes on to foreground how the enigmatic politician remains a mass of contradictions, including purporting to be a self-proclaimed socialist who governed as a laissezfaire capitalist. The documentary uses extensive interviews with his family and friends to provide some insight into what makes this complex man tick, and most surprisingly how his close supporters, nicknamed the 'Drumcondra Mafia', helped to force his way to the very top of the political ladder.

Audiences were afforded a comprehensive look behind the scenes at the last three decades of Irish politics, and witnessed Bertie's successes and failures, which culminated in his resignation from the post of Taoiseach on 6th May 2008 after eleven years in the job; second only to Eamon DeValera in terms of longevity. In particular much time was given to the Planning/Mahon Tribunal which was set up in 1998 to enquire into political corruption allegations. Nearly a decade later it would focus on Ahern's missing bank accounts and a pattern of lodgements and withdrawals with various interviews and media interventions used to explain his 'irregular affairs', with the infamous term 'dig out' entering Irish political folklore. First broadcast on RTE on 3rd November 2008, the series secured viewing figures of 601,000, which went down slightly from there in subsequent episodes. Nonetheless, it has become a very successful RTE series during 2008.

While episode one traced Ahern's life up to the general election of 1989--when he got elected to the Dail on his first attempt--episode two commenced with the 1990 Irish presidential election in which Mary Robinson became the country's first female president, and followed Ahern's career up to his appointment as leader of the Fianna Fail political party in 1994. The third episode focused on the period from 1994 when Ahern very nearly formed a coalition Government with Labour. There was also the major issue of alleged corruption and a briefcase full of cash delivered to Celia Larkin--his then partner--who lodged it in a bank account. The final episode covered the period from early 1999 up to the present day.

Ahern's crowing achievement, acknowledged by all, remains the Northern Ireland Peace Process, which he worked on patiently over a period of many years. His tenacity in that endeavour received surprising accolades from his erstwhile nemesis in the North, Ian Paisley, alongside Tony Blair, then Prime Minister of Britain.

Ahern was born on the 12th September 1951 and was elected the sixth leader of Fianna Fail in 1994 at the comparatively young age of 43. He has since secured his place in party history as one of their most hallowed and respected leaders. His parents were both from Cork and his father ended up as a farm manager at All Hallows College, Drumcondra. Bertie marred Miriam Kelly in 1972 and had two daughters, Georgina who is now wife of Westlife member Nicky Byrne and Cecelia who is a best selling author. In 1992 he separated from his wife and until 2003 maintained a relationship with Celia

Larkin, who becomes the femme fatale of this story, if one was to adapt a film noir analogy. …