Exclusive To The Emergency – Extract From Bertie Ahern Autobiography

Bertie Ahern’s controversial ‘buke’

In light of recent controversy about the awarding of Artist’s Tax Exemption to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern for his autobiography Lying Shitbag – The Alibi, our proprietor, the Maltese billionaire and richest man in Ireland Wiggy O’Brien, has ordered us to publish exclusive extracts from the ex Fianna Fail supremo’s compelling first novel. In this first extract, Mr Ahern discusses frankly and with traces of real fact, some of the highlight events which took place in the early years of his historic coalition….

….In June 2000, Mary Harney wandered into the wrong room and gave an interview to the Irish Independent so as not to feel embarrassed. Unfortunately she said “I for one believe that Mr Haughey should spend time in prison”, which was widely interpreted as saying that Charlie Haughey should spend time in prison. The judge who was to hear Haughey’s case said that the comments made a fair trial impossible and ordered an indefinite postponement.

Once she slept it off, Mary came to see me in a desperate state. If it had been the other way round, she would have been making a huge issue of it. “Jesus, you shouldn’t have said that, Mary,” I told her, “but I know you didn’t mean to do it. In anyways, it saves ‘oul eh eh eh Charlie’s neck and me de bodder of lettin him off ”

That was the end of it. In that meeting, Mary made no serious attempt to go. She lingered at the window, sniffing at the air and nibbling small bites from a damask cushion that had become personally lodged in her by mistake. It seemed more like a figure of speech when she said: “I’ll have to resign . . .” I later heard it reported that she had to be strongly persuaded by me and by her colleagues in the SS to stay on in the national interest. That made me laugh. If there was a real effort to resign, I didn’t see it. I have that gift, the gift of “Selective Sight”

I’m sure she had been genuinely upset about her loose talk seeming to let Charlie slip through the gap. After all, it was because of him that she had left MaFianna Fail. Well, that and because we lured her up the Sugar Loaf this one time by dragging a crate of Drambuie behind a Garda car and sped off laughing when she finally followed us up to the top. Regarding her comments, certainly, we agreed that she should not have said it, but there was no real question of her resigning or me accepting that resignation. In fact, she later grew to love the little gifts from Leonidas that Charlie would have sent from time to time with a note addressed to ‘My Little Get Out Of Jail Free Card’

I often felt that when they made a mistake, it was almost as if the SS wanted us [MaFFianna Fail] to do the glossing over and let them wriggle off the hook. There didn’t seem to be much give and take about it. We would take the hit for them, but when we got something wrong, they’d expect us to come clean.

For example, one of the most difficult times in the early years of the 1997-2002 government, apart from running out of places to stuff banknotes in the furniture at St Luke’s, was the Sheedy affair. Philip Sheedy had been sentenced to four years in prison for causing the death of a young mother through dangerous driving as if that was some kind of a crime or something. He was released in November 1998, having served one year of the sentence.

The revelation that I had made representations to the minister for justice, John O’Donoghue, for some reason which I do not understand, whipped up a massive storm. Any TD will tell you that we try to fix things for people who seem to be our friends but who we have no connection with every week of the year. The father had sent me a letter making a plea for his son to be allowed day release to work on a Fas scheme. My office had followed it up with the Department of Justice, asking: “What’s the story bud?”

Then the press started saying that because the father “knew” my “friend” Joe Burke, this must have been some kind of a favour for the “Drumcondra Mafia”. They even tried to drag my “girlfriend”, Celia Larkin, into “it”, because she was “friendly” with the “wife” of the Supreme Court judge, Hugh O’Flaherty, who had “relisted” the case. It was crazy stuff and unfair allegations were made about people who I know who knew me who knew that people, people who know people, are the luckiest people in the world”

I get letters about everyone and everything all the time. Parents would be writing to me about “this”, “that” and Harry. If the office thought we could help, they would refer them on. The answer in this case had come back “no”, so that was the end of it. That is not pulling strings. Its not rezoning land. The week the papers splashed the Sheedy story, I had got 15 envelopes of grift alone during a trip to the Punchestown races.

The political fall-out was bad. I had told Mary Harney on April 14 that I had made representations and she was fine with that as long as I put it on record in the Dail. I said I would, but I missed an early opportunity to do that, and when the story broke Mary was furious. Several small items of stationery were crushed and a Garda was bitten twice.

She was in Donegal by this stage, saying that she would not be coming to cabinet and generally letting it be known that she was “looking for a corkscrew”. I used Charlie McCreevy, the finance minister, as a kind of personal handy-wipe, and then phoned Mary to say sorry.

In the end, I went into the Dail on May 5 to apologise for not bringing my own involvement to its attention earlier. That helped calm things down, particularly some TDs who were unaware that I was involved in Government at all, so self deprecating am I – but it was a lesson. As usual, I was up to my neck in plausible but ‘detail light’ backstory. My political antennae should have picked up on the Sheedy affair earlier. I had dropped the ball, and in a coalition government, that’s not something you can afford to do. You didn’t have to look far back, to Albert Reynolds and Harry Whelehan and that whole “walking across Middle Earth with the dwarves to replace the precious” thing to understand that.

Unfortunately, it didn’t mean we wouldn’t end up repeating it. In 2000, Charlie McCreevy nominated O’Flaherty for a European job. He mentioned it to me at the end of a parliamentary party meeting, and I said: “Ah sure, that’s grand. If it goes well he’ll be my biatch, and if it goes arse over tip I’ll deny ever meeting the fucker” O’Flaherty was a bright guy, maybe a bit other-worldly, some might even say a bit “judgie”, but had been tipped to be the next chief justice. He had got caught up in something cooked into something sordid and something something eh yeah, lost his whole court career and here’s an opportunity in Europe where we would be able to keep him in “sponz”.

The problem was that the public acted like they had some kind of a say in it and didn’t want him to have a job anywhere. We didn’t put enough thought into it. And then — bang — we were into it again. It. It yeah. Something something. Once the decision was taken, Charlie dug his heels in about making the appointment.

That brought more trouble with the SS. The difficulty for Mary Harney was that she had been informed of the appointment in advance and had raised no objections. She was clearly annoyed with herself. The little fort she had made out of files and usually played with in her office had been destroyed. The SS were always good at fortifications.

On this one, we were all wrong. Our own supporters were irate. The public gave us a good kicking, as did the electorate of Tipperary South, who put Fianna Fail third in a by-election in June 2000. In the end, O’Flaherty did the right thing by withdrawing his name before I had to arrange a little “accident”.

All told, I worked well with Mary Harney in government. We enjoyed our fair share of Barneys and even got into the earlier Bear In The Big Blue House episodes, where Tutter’s character is far less sympathetic. Mary could be tricky once she got into something. But by and large……ehhhh

That definitely wasn’t the case with her replacement as leader of the SS, Michael McHimmler. He was a different character, not just from Mary, but from most in Leinster House. Michael never really seemed to have the thick skin needed for life on the front line of political life. He was highly strung, so you were never sure if he was going to lose his temper when somebody was riling him in the Dail. The thing was to back down when he started struggling with the safety on his Luger, then you would be perfectly safe.

Although his sharp tongue would sometimes get Michael into trouble, it could also be effective. He had an ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. That came in handy during the St Andrews talks, when he sat down and said “That last piece of Battenburg is mine gentlemen”. That impressed the Brits, especially Jonathan Powell [Tony Blair’s adviser]. I’d been calling it Colourdy Squarie Gay Cake all week.

But whereas Mary had been steady, Michael was nervy whenever an issue came up in the press. I knew right from the moment he ordered the installation of Ack Ack Batteries on the roof of Leinster House that life was going to be more fraught now….

© Bertie Ahern Extracted from Lying Shitbag: The Alibi, published by Random Shite 5 October 2009, priced at €740

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