Published October 1997
- Bertie Ahern - Leader of Fianna Fáil Party and Taoiseach (Prime Minister)
- Ray Burke - Fianna Fáil Party, former Minister for Foreign Affairs
- Charles Haughey - Former leader of Fianna Fáil and former Taoiseach
- Albert Reynolds - Former leader of Fianna Fáil and former Taoiseach
- Dick Spring - Leader of the Labour Party, former Tánaiste (deputy Taoiseach)
- John Bruton - Leader of Fine Gael - main opposition party - former Taoiseach
- Mary Harney - Leader of Progressive Democrats - a break-away from Fianna Fáil, present Tánaiste
Last Tuesday, the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ray Burke, resigned his office and Dáil seat, as a Tribunal of Enquiry is due to investigate his financial conduct. Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, accused the media of hounding and harrassing Mr Burke, but he is more concerned with his own political survival. His minority government, Fianna Fáil, will have to win a bi-election against a backdrop of the public unravelling of the tangled legacy of his political predecessor, Charlie Haughey.
Déjà vu. In 1994 a terrier-like Albert Reynolds was ready to go get 'em at the peace talks, with lawyer, Dick Spring at his side. Their path seemed clear to being able brokers for a better Ireland, to write their names into history, our men of destiny - new celtic heroes for a new celtic age. Then Albert was uncrowned and the battle lost, and the peace process staggered, reeled and ignited.
Dick Spring remained on the chariot of state, joined by John Bruton of Fine Gael, an amiable farmer-statesman, whose party has traditionally been "softer" on the North. Basking in the dawn light of the Celtic Tiger, government trundled along at a stately if unheroic pace until the democratic machine kindly intervened. Huge swings and roundabouts swung Bertie Ahern into the hot seat, joined demurely by Mary Harney's chastened PDs.
But Bertie, the loveable gurrier, despite high personal popularity, is rattled by the past sins of his party. Bertie's possible collusion in these sins is being called into question. Serious matters indeed. Another, equally serious matter is the cause of the crisis. As with the 1994 crisis which toppled Albert Reynolds, the trail to disaster was triggered in the media, and the source of the initial leak remains a mystery. It could have come from anywhere: Dáil opponents, dissatisfied ranks within the Fianna Fáil Party; British Intelligence; a Unionist organisation. Politics is a dirty game.
There is a danger that we all lose if Bertie's fragile government collapses. He shares the same terrier-like qualifications for Treaty negotiation as Albert had (Lloyd George in an anorak). His party's presence at the peace table is a source of great reassurance for Sinn Féin negotiators. With the United Kingdom in the midst of dismantling itself, Unionist negotiators are arguing from the weakest position they have ever faced. Mo Mowlam, Northern Irish Secretary under Tony Blair's New Labour Government in Britain, a woman of steely determination, is optimistic that preliminary settlements can be reached this year.
We face a dilemma in Ireland. We all agree that those in public office should be within the law in their actions. However, present difficulties are rooted in activities of a decade and more ago. If we sweep things under the carpet negotiations can progress, but we show scant regard for democratic morality. If we pursue the moral high ground, we jeopardise what may be the best opportunity we will get for peace in Ireland.
Published in Essays from Ireland in In Motion Magazine - October 13, 1997.