What can you buy with eighty grand these days?  A decent 4×4, maybe.  Time was that you could buy a half decent house.  In 1993 eighty grand would buy two half decent houses on the North Circular Road!

I was thinking tonight about the Dunnes Stores t-shirt.  The one with the logo on the front – ‘I spent £2,000,000 and all I got was this lousy Taoiseach!’

Or, my own personal favourite, when one of the Baileys was boasting at the tribunal how he once paid £120,000 for a ram (male sheep variety, not hydraulic), and a wag in the audience was heard to comment, ‘Jaysus, he only paid thirty grand for Ray Burke!’

 So, eighty grand.

I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find out the exact remuneration for a glorious senator in our upper house.  (Okay, so I didn’t try that hard.)  It is I believe somewhere in the region of eighty grand a year.

Nice work if you can get it.

 It is remarkable, in a country which prides itself on its democracy, that it is in the gift of the country’s leader to bestow upon 11 individuals, positions in an essentially powerless legislative house along with all of the status and privilege that goes with it, plus a wage of eighty grand.  That’s over €1500 a week.

Nice work if you can get it.

So how do you decide who wins the coveted prize in An Taoiseach’s little Seanad lottery?  Well, it’s not exactly rocket science.  You need some help forming a government, so two each to the Greens and the PDs.  Then six Fianna Fáil lackeys makes ten.  There sits Bertie, one last eighty grand chip twirling between his grubby little fingers.  He allows himself a quiet smile, knowing that he has an ace up his sleeve that nobody suspects.  He tosses the eighty grand sop to his new best friend, Eoghan Harris.

I’ve just watched Harris, Eamonn Dunphy and John Waters debating Bertie on the Late Late Show.  I know that Harris is not a fool.  The man possesses a sharpe intellect and, having been at the heart of Irish political and historical debate for a couple of decades, he has an appreciation of where the land lies.

But how can we explain his blind, unflinching loyalty to Bertie Ahern?  Harris is a recent convert to the Fianna Fáil fold, so it’s not the blind loyalty to ‘the party’ that you see in other, more seasoned soldiers of destiny.  Many FF adherents are only in it for personal gain.  Fianna Fáil is the natural party of government and so is the most likely choice for those who believe in power for power’s sake.  The trappings of power are a powerful drug and a career of mouthing platitudes,which you no more believe in than you believe in the man in the moon, is a small price to pay for the power and the privilege and the wealth that goes with high political office.

Where does this leave Harris, then?

The day after his anointment he told me that he had considered turning it down.  I didn’t believe him then and I wouldn’t believe him now.  He said he asked for some time to think about it and was told that the Taoiseach wanted to announce it that day, (Friday, 3rd August, 2007), so he accepted.

Harris is no fool.  However, he and many others in Bertie’s camp seem to want to take the rest of us for fools.  Mary Coughlan, speaking on ‘The Week in Politics’, passed up five opportunities to say that she believed the evidence that Bertie has given to the Mahon Tribunal.  She then expects us to believe that she has full confidence in him.  One after the other they have lined up, senior and junior minister alike, to express full confidence in their leader without actually saying straight out that they believe him.

Harris told us on Friday night that Bertie was telling ‘the truth as he sees it.’ That one got a laugh from the audience.  It got a bellyful of laughs from me.  Pressed by an on form Dunphy on the meaning of ‘the truth as he sees it’, Harris goes on to explain that it simply means that Bertie does not believe that he has done anything wrong.

Perhaps the good senator could enlighten me further.  If Bertie does not believe that he has done anything wrong, if he genuinely believes that he has nothing to hide, why is he trotting off to the High Court tomorrow to launch a challenge to the Mahon Tribunal which could only be designed to frustrate and delay the work of the tribunal?  Why has the tribunal had to spend nearly three years dragging information out of him, like a dentist, kneeling on his patient’s chest, pulling at a reluctant eye tooth?

Dunphy tells us that the £138,000 that Ahern lodged to his bank account in 1994 was more than twice his salary.  I’m open to correction, but I believe that £138,000 was more than four times his salary.  Harris goes on to mention the hundreds of thousands he earned during the years in question, as if this easily explains it all.  Did he not eat for seven years or what?  Did he not support an estranged wife and two daughters?  Nothing that the Paymaster General could produce in terms of payslips and documentation could explain the vast sums of cash passing through Bertie’s hands during this time.

Gene Kerrigan’s recent article puts forward a strong case that Ahern has perjured himself at the tribunal.  Vincent Browne recently put forward strong argument that Ahern had perjured himself either at the tribunal or during the legal proceedings associated with his marriage seperation.

All of this, it seems, is of no consequence when it comes to judging the calibre of our elected leader.

While Senator Harris looks on adoringly my own head will hang in shame as this man represents my nation on Capitol Hill.

Bertie Ahern is not fit for the office of Taoiseach.  He is not fit even for the office of leader of Fianna Fáil, and recently the bar in that department has not been set too high.  How long more must this farce go on?  John Waters thinks he will be gone within weeks while Harris believes he will lead Fianna Fáil and the country for as long as he wants to.  Let us hope that it is the former.

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