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September 29, 2006

Minister Ahern Reiterates Ireland's Support for ILIR

News About Ireland & The Irish

IE 09/27/06
Minister Ahern Reiterates Support For ILIR Campaign
IT 09/30/06 Ahern Needs To Give 'Credible' Account
IT 09/30/06 Newspaper's Duty Was To Publish Story, Says Editor
IT 09/30/06 How Bertie Would Have Fared In Other Lands
IT 09/30/06 Days Of Reckoning
IT 09/30/06 Crafting The Bertie Brand
IT 09/30/06 100,000 Oysters Meet Their Maker As Galway Festival Begins
IT 09/30/06 Going Wild For Mooney


Minister Ahern Reiterates Support For The Irish Lobby For
Immigration Reform Campaign And The Activities Of Irish
Immigration Centres In The U.S.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern T.D., met
with representatives from the Irish Lobby for Immigration
Reform (ILIR) in New York today to discuss the ongoing
campaign on behalf of Irish undocumented in the United
States. Speaking after the meeting the Minister said :

"I would like to reiterate the strong support of the
Government for the campaign of the Irish Lobby for
Immigration Reform on behalf of the Irish undocumented in
the United States. The plight of the undocumented gets
harder by the day and the ILIR campaign has undoubtedly
already had a strong impact in Congress and beyond. The
Government will remain actively involved in representing
the concerns of the undocumented in the crucial period

Minister Ahern also met with representatives from Irish
immigration centers in New York yesterday evening to
discuss their work programmes for the year ahead. These
organisations are engaged in the provision of support and
advisory services that are accessed directly by Irish
emigrants. The meeting follows an announcement by the
Minister in July of grants from the Irish Government
totaling US$1.183m (?919,374) for 14 Irish community
organisations in the US in 2006.

During the meeting with the centers the Minister spoke
warmly about their work.

"The services offered by the Irish immigration centers are
critical, particularly for the more vulnerable members of
our communities here. I welcome the ongoing focus on
supporting community networks and the development of
services for older Irish people in this country. The work
that the centers undertake to respond to the particular
difficulties encountered by the undocumented in their
communities is also of key importance".


Note for Editors

The Minister met with representatives from the following
Immigration organisations in New York yesterday :

- Emerald Isle Immigration Centre
- Aisling Centre
- Irish Immigration and Pastoral Centre, Philadelphia
- New York Irish Centre
- Project Irish Outreach
- Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres

The grants to the Irish immigration centres announced by
Minister Ahern in July total US$1,183,050 (?919,000). This
represents an increase of 29% on the amount distributed in
2005 (US$915,000). It is close to double the amount
disbursed in 2004 (US$653,242) and more than three-times
the funding available in 2003 (US$356,000).

Since 1990 the Department of Foreign Affairs has allocated
over US$6.8 million to the Irish Immigration Centres in the
United States.

Funding supports the delivery of advice and information to
Irish emigrants in the US. Particular priority is
attached to supporting the work of the front line community
organisations engaged with vulnerable Irish citizens,
including undocumented Irish people. Further information
on the work of the immigration centres may be obtained from
the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centres (,
tel: 00-617-9870193) or directly from the centres

Overall, Government funding for emigrant services continues
to rise significantly. In 2006 Department of Foreign
Affairs funding in this area has reached ?12 million,
representing an increase of 45% on 2005. Most of this
allocation is directed to groups in Britain, with the rest
directed to groups in the US, Australia and elsewhere.

ENDS +++
27 September 2006
Press Office


Ahern Needs To Give 'Credible' Account

Last updated: 30-09-06, 00:50

T naiste Michael McDowell said last night he would continue
in Government with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern if Mr Ahern can
give the D il a credible and convincing account of how he
came to accept payments from businessmen while he was
minister for finance

"What I am saying is that a person in his position has to
be accountable in the right way to D il ireann. Decent
standards have to be observed and people have to be
accountable. I believe and hope that he will account, warts
and all, to the D il on Tuesday. I have the feeling that we
have to act proportionately on this," Mr McDowell told The
Irish Times last night.

He said: "I strongly believe that Bertie Ahern is an
honest, decent man and I have never seen any evidence of
corruption. As far as I am concerned all of these things
fall short of what we could consider acceptable but what
the Irish people have to decide is whether they want the
Government to break up and a person who achieved huge
things for Ireland to bow out on this."

Mr McDowell said Mr Ahern had been one of Ireland's most
successful taoisigh and he wanted to be reasonable and
proportionate while adhering to reasonable standards.

Minister for Finance Brian Cowen yesterday staunchly
defended Mr Ahern over the Manchester payment - œ8,000 from
a group of businessmen who the Taoiseach provided after
dinner speeches to.

Speaking on the issue for the first time, the Mr Cowen
argued, at times heatedly, with Fine Gael's Richard Bruton
on RT radio.

Mr Cowen said the Taoiseach had volunteered the information
to the tribunal, in an RT interview and provided answers
in the D il. He also spoke to the media in Cavan.

"To be honest with you, by trying to deal with these
matters on an hourly and daily basis, with various
different questions and everything being asked, leads to
more comment rather than people just dealing with it and
closing it up," the Minister said.

"This man, the Taoiseach of this country, when asked, put
all of this matter into the tribunal proceedings as he was
requested to do on the basis that they would remain

Asked if the Taoiseach should step aside and be replaced by
Mr Cowen as leader of Fianna F il, the Minister said:
"Look, the Taoiseach is our Taoiseach, he's the president
of our party. He enjoys the full support of our party and
everyone in this organisation because we know him and we
believe him and we believe in his credibility."

c 2006


Newspaper's Duty Was To Publish Story, Says Editor

Paul Cullen

The Irish Times revealed details of payments to the
Taoiseach in the early 1990s because it was in the public
interest to do so, Editor Geraldine Kennedy has said. Ms
Kennedy told the planning tribunal the payments would never
have come to light had the newspaper not published details
because they did not relate to planning and so did not fall
within the remit of the inquiry.

She defended her decision to destroy the leaked documents
obtained by The Irish Times, arguing this was necessary to
protect the newspaper's sources. She also declined to
answer detailed questions about the documents, because to
do so might help the tribunal identify these sources.

Ms Kennedy said she became involved in the story two days
before it was published on September 21st, when public
affairs correspondent Colm Keena contacted her about the
information he had received. The story went through the
normal verification process before the decision was made to

"I took the view that it was a matter of very legitimate
public interest that the Taoiseach of the day had received
monies from businessmen while he was minister for finance
in 1993. I took legal advice, as we normally do on any
contentious story every night. I decided it was my duty as
editor to publish the story, but I regret any offence
caused to the tribunal."

Ms Kennedy said the story published by The Irish Times was
thoroughly verified and she was happy to publish it. She
stood over everything Mr Keena wrote.

Immediately after the article was published, the tribunal
wrote to The Irish Times saying it had breached the terms
of a Supreme Court order restraining media outlets from
publishing confidential material from the inquiry.

In her reply to the tribunal, Ms Kennedy stated: "The
circumstances of this matter are straightforward. The Irish
Times received an unsolicited and anonymous communication
that I considered an important matter in the public
interest for this newspaper to verify and publish. The
vital issue of public interest, which I considered I had a
duty to publish, was that the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, while a
serving minister, was in receipt of certain payments of
money. The fact of these payments is a matter that this
newspaper had a proper interest in publishing.

"This is not a situation where an allegation of a payment
has been made that is denied or is false. The fact of these
payments is admitted."

Ms Kennedy wrote that she was not aware that the article
breached the Supreme Court injunction. The Irish Times was
not a party to these proceedings (involving another
newspaper, the Sunday Business Post).

"It would be something of a surprise to discover that a
general order had been made restraining this newspaper [and
the print, broadcast and electronic media in general] from
publishing matters of important public interest in a case I
was not involved in, on the basis of evidence I was unaware
of, in relation to factual matters unconnected with that
case, without an opportunity to make any submissions and in
relation to an interlocutory order I do not have."

While The Irish Times respected the tribunal's important
public function, this did not mean it would desist from
discharging its separate duty to publish matters in the
public interest, she continued. "I think you might agree
that no single person or entity in this State [including
this newspaper] has a monopoly on supporting constitutional

The Irish Times did not breach and never had an intention
of breaching any order of the Supreme Court, Ms Kennedy

Last Monday, the tribunal summonsed Mr Keena and Ms Kennedy
to appear before the inquiry and ordered them to produce
the leaked documents.

Ms Kennedy said she received legal advice, after which she
decided to destroy the documents. "I made at that time the
only decision I felt I could make in the circumstances, by
ordering Colm Keena to destroy any documents in his
possession. I did not make this decision out of any
disrespect for the tribunal or its work but rather as the
only way to fulfil my duty and obligation to protect
journalistic sources."

Judge Mahon said that for whatever reason the effect of
this was to fail to comply with a tribunal order.

Ms Kennedy agreed this was the case.

She declined to answer questions about the leaked
documents, saying she did not wish to provide the tribunal
with any information that might help the tribunal identify
the newspaper's sources.

During the process of verification, she said, it emerged
that the payments were "facts not allegations" and that the
person who was now Taoiseach was receiving payments in 1993
while he was minister for finance. It was also learned that
Mr Ahern was moving in the High Court to stop the tribunal
from proceeding with its investigation into these payments.

"In making the decision to publish in the public interest I
was very conscious of the possibility that this tribunal
could find that the matter it was investigating was outside
its terms of reference and in my opinion it clearly is
because it wasn't dealing with payments for planning
matters, and that this material might never have entered
the public domain and I remain of my view that it was in
the public interest to publish for these reasons."

Ms Kennedy also pointed out that because it was a
controversial story, she took a deliberate decision not to
mention the fact that the payment related to Mr Ahern's
separation. "It was the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, who brought
these issues into the public domain. We had no interest in
the purposes to which the monies were put, only the fact
that a serving minister for finance had received monies."

Ms Kennedy said she was a great admirer of the tribunal and
did not intend any disrespect. It was ironic that the
tribunal, as well as the McCracken and Moriarty tribunals,
would not have been set up without journalists' leaks, she

c The Irish Times


How Bertie Would Have Fared In Other Lands


What happens elsewhere if a minister pockets a cash gift?
Irish Times journalists do a quick whip around other
capital cities.

What would happen in other countries if a government
minister pocketed œ8,000 (?11,800 in today's money) from,
he might claim, a group of business people who happened, he
might claim, to do a whip-round on a whim?

Leaving aside the standards of probity and ethical
behaviour many people will feel a government minister
should apply to himself without the necessity of adhering
to stated rules, what guidelines existed at the time?

In 1994, when a minister took up office, he or she was
given a copy of the so-called Green Book of guidelines
about their behaviour. On dos and don'ts about gifts etc,
the guidelines say the following:

Ministers and ministers of state "should not engage in any
activities that could reasonably be regarded as interfering
or being incompatible with the full and proper discharge of
the duties of his office".

Whether Ahern's conduct in Manchester in 1994 was
"incompatible" with the "proper discharge" of his duties is
a matter of debate, even if he thinks there's no case to


In Norway, there is little wriggle room. "Once a politician
enters government, he or she is forbidden to receive
payment for making any speech of any sort," says ™ivind
™stang, head of information at the Norwegian prime
minister's office.

In a quick ring around yesterday, Scandinavian government
departments all expressed surprise when confronted with the
question about payments to politicians. The situation does
not appear to have ever occurred in Finland, Sweden or


Senior office holders in the US federal government are not
allowed to receive "any earned income for any outside
employment or activity" while in office.

Ethical conduct laws ban all federal employees from
receiving payment for a speaking, writing or teaching
engagement that "relates to the employee's official

Teaching, speaking or writing is considered related to
duties if the subject of the activity "deals in significant
part with: (1) Any matter to which the employee presently
is assigned or to which the employee had been assigned
during the previous one-year period; (2) Any ongoing or
announced policy, programme or operation" of the government
department concerned.


The issue of cash gifts is not covered by Britain's
ministerial code - because it should not arise, and any
minister found in receipt of cash would almost certainly be
forced to resign.

It might be considered acceptable in certain circumstances
for ministers to accept offers of help from friends.
However, they would be required to tell their permanent
secretary, and in some instances the approval of the prime
minister might be required.

Section 5.24 of the code says: "It is a well established
and recognised rule that no minister or public servant
should accept gifts, hospitality or services from anyone
which would, or might appear to, place him or her under an


There is no law in France that forbids politicians from
receiving gifts. It is fine so long as it is not
established that they do a favour in return. However,
politicians have been punished at the polls when such
information became known.

The two most famous examples are Val‚ry Giscard d'Estaing
who, as finance minister and president, accepted gifts of
diamonds from Emperor Bokassa of Central African Republic;
and the socialist prime minister Pierre B‚r‚govoy, who was
given an interest-free loan to buy a Paris apartment by a
banker close to Fran‡ois Mitterrand. Giscard lost the 1981
presidential election. For B‚r‚govoy, the revelation
contributed to the socialists' election defeat in 1993. He
committed suicide shortly after.


German government ministers have very specific guidelines
about what gifts and payments they are allowed - and mostly
not allowed - to accept. They are banned from accepting any
paid position practising a trade or profession parallel to
their political one.

Paragraph five of the law governing federal ministers
states: "The members and former members of the federal
government are obliged to inform about any gifts that they
have received in relation to their office. The federal
government decides about the use of these gifts."

A government spokesman said: "These regulations are in
place and they are adhered to. That's why the rules are


Mr Ahern might have been well served had he adopted the
Japanese method of dealing with awkwardness over hitherto
unknown dig-outs and financial bungs. He could have said
the money was "part of a plan to reshape the political
landscape" or a "birthday present"; or claimed a faulty
memory. All those excuses have worked in Japan, where
greasing palms is a fine art.

- Peter Murtagh in Dublin with Colm O'Callaghan in
Stockholm, Denis Staunton in Washington, Frank Millar in
London, Derek Scally in Berlin, Lara Marlowe in Paris and
David McNeill in Tokyo

c The Irish Times


Days Of Reckoning


A lifelong habit of secretiveness is coming back to haunt
Bertie Ahern - and the issue of past payments wont go away,
writes Mark Hennessy, Political Correspondent

For years, Brian Murphy, a special adviser to Taoiseach
Bertie Ahern, has worked quietly in Government Buildings
dealing with Ahern's relations with the Mahon (planning)
tribunal. Highly respected, good-humoured, diligent and
utterly loyal, Murphy has laboured on his own on the issue,
with many of his colleagues sitting just yards from him
left unaware of developments.

For more than two years, Ahern has spent hundreds of hours
coping with the avalanche of paperwork needed to satisfy
the tribunal's prodigious appetite for details about his
finances over nearly 30 years. From the beginning, he has
been visibly uncomfortable about opening up his
relationship with his wife, Miriam, and daughters, Georgina
and Cecelia, to scrutiny of any kind. The first two
payments, totalling approximately ?50,000 and made to him
by a group of 12 Dublin friends in 1993 and 1994, were used
to pay costs relating to his marital separation. The
payments were revealed in The Irish Times last Thursday

More recently, though, he was worried, too, about the
impact the revelation that he was given œ8,000 sterling by
businessmen at a Manchester dinner in September 1994 would
have. Convinced that The Irish Times had information about
the Manchester payment, Ahern decided to mention the matter
himself in his interview with Bryan Dobson on RT's Six One
News on Tuesday night.

The first two payments would have amounted to a serious
political squall, which would have lasted for days and then
subsided if it had been handled promptly and properly,
leaving some lasting political damage in its wake.

However, the association of these two payments with the
Manchester monies, still shrouded in vagueness five days
after they emerged, is politically toxic, and Ahern has
made the situation worse every time he has opened his mouth
on the affair.

Throughout, Ahern's handling of the crisis has been
bizarre, while the Government's public relations has been
equally open to question. This was illustrated by the
decision last Monday to tell journalists who wanted to
interview Ahern to travel to Dublin Zoo for one of his
engagements, when they could just as easily have gone to
Griffith College an hour later. It was a move which
produced predictable ridicule in colour pieces the
following morning.

Speaking on Clare FM on the morning of the first Irish
Times report, Ahern was calm, though he was far more
rattled later in the day when he spoke to assembled
journalists in Ennis, where he rejected this newspaper's
figures of ?50,000 to ?100,000 as being "off the wall" but
confirmed that money had been paid to him.

Since the eruption of the crisis, Ahern has brought few
people into his confidence to help him deal with
difficulties that threaten his hold on power - an
unthinkable predicament just a few weeks ago.

No members of the Cabinet, with the possible exception of
the Minister for Finance, Brian Cowen, were told in advance
that a report was about to break saying that the Mahon
tribunal was investigating payments made to him by
businessmen. Few, if any, of them have been brought into
the loop since, though Ahern's reluctance to share closely
guarded information is nothing new to most of them.

Most realised long ago that he listens more often to his
"Drumcondra crew", who are sometimes inclined to tell him
what they think he wants to hear rather than what he should
be told (though how often he heeds even them is open to

"He doesn't lift the phone to colleagues. He'll talk about
things if you ring him, but he won't go looking for advice.
He might talk to Cowen - and, perhaps, Dermot Ahern on this
one, judging by Dermot's interview today - but that's it,"
one member of the Cabinet told The Irish Times yesterday.

However, Ahern has consulted closely with solicitors Frank
Ward and Co, tax advisers and the Attorney General, Rory
Brady. Brady has acted as counsellor to Ahern for some
time, but his tendency to emphasise the importance of the
law, and the protocol of Ahern's relationship with the
tribunals, over everything else may do little on this
occasion for a Taoiseach trying to cope with a political

IT IS THE small things that trip politicians up, remarked a
weary Albert Reynolds on leaving office, after the crisis
caused by Fr Brendan Smyth had destroyed his government in
1994 - just weeks after Ahern went to Manchester for the
dinner which is now proving so controversial. For days, RT
News, like all other media organisations, had pressed for a
one-to-one interview with Ahern, only to be told last
Monday evening that he would agree to one the following

Filmed in the sizeable ground-floor function room in his
constituency office in St Luke's, Drumcondra, shortly
before noon on Tuesday, Ahern seemed well-prepared for the
interview, bar the issue of the Manchester payments. Then,
speaking to Bryan Dobson, he began to ramble, clearly

"The only other thing, Bryan, totally separate and nothing
to do with this, but I don't want anyone saying I didn't
give a full picture. I did a function in Manchester with a
business organisation, nothing to do with politics or
whatever, I was talking about the Irish economy, I was
explaining about Irish economy matters, and I'd say there
was about 25 people at that. The organisers of it, I spent
about four hours with them, dinner, I did question and
answers, and all the time from 1977 up to current periods I
got 8,000 on that, which you know whether it was a
political donation," he said.

The quote left most in Leinster House bemused, but Ahern's
continuing failure to deal with the issue in the D il the
following day left the Opposition quietly scenting blood.
Pressed by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny to give more details
about the Manchester gathering, Ahern avoided a series of
specific questions from him. "The only other time I was in
receipt of anything was when I was given a sum of money by
a group in Manchester on a particular occasion attended by
about 25 people," Ahern said. "I dealt with this properly
in terms of taxes. It had nothing in particular to do with
the present matter at all, but I did not want somebody to
come out again and say I had got this particular sum of
money. That was the only point I made on that particular
issue. That was in 1994. I checked the date and believe it
was the 1994-95 season. Subject to correction, I believe I
was minister at the time. That is what that was about -
there was no other issue. When I went through all my other
records dating from 1977, I noted that was the only other
donation I was not able to account for out of literally
hundreds of cheques and records dating back 29 years."

Standing outside RT's broadcasting suite on the top floor
of Leinster House that evening, Fine Gael's political
director, Gerry Naughton, was convinced that Ahern's
Achilles heel had been revealed, opening up ground for
Kenny, who did not want to focus overmuch on the first two
payments lest he be accused of intruding into Ahern's
private life.

The decision to go on RT's Six One News was taken
following days of deliberation involving the Taoiseach and
Fianna F il press director Olivia Buckley, who was pushed
into the frontline when it was decided by the Taoiseach, it
appears, that she, rather than Government press secretary
Mandy Johnston, should take the lead role with the media.
The Taoiseach's ability to respond to the crisis was
hampered by the departure yesterday week of the
Government's outgoing director of communications, Joe
Lennon, to take up the post of director of communications
for the Health Services Executive.

The RT interview was a major risk. "You can only do a
Richard Nixon-type Checkers speech once," says one media
expert, referring to the former US president's famous 1952
speech in which he defended himself against allegations
that he had improperly taken money.

Quickly dubbed "Bertie's Oprah moment", the interview had
all the signs of being influenced by Fianna F il's
Washington-based media experts, Shrum, Devine, Donilon.
However, party insiders insist that the US consultants were
not involved - emphasising, instead, the toll the
experience took on Ahern.

"He was very down over the weekend, really depressed. One
of his drivers was in tears looking at him," says one

Ahern now knows, or should know, what Albert Reynolds meant
by "the small things". Twelve years on, few can remember
why Reynolds's 1992-94 Fianna F il/Labour coalition, one of
the best administrations of moderns times, collapsed.

Back then, Leinster House got caught up in a frenzy, driven
by tensions between Reynolds and Dick Spring, by public
outrage, by a succession of new chapters to delight and
interest the media and, not insignificantly, by exhaustion.

There are echoes of 1994 about today, but there are enough
differences between today and 1994 to ensure that Ahern's
nine-year grip on power, though loosened, can remain if
matters are handled with extreme delicacy in the coming

Though the crisis has caused difficulties in the
relationship between Ahern and the Progressive Democrats
leader, Michael McDowell, the two have worked closely and
well together since 1999, in stark contrast to the
sulphurous relationship that existed between Reynolds and
Dick Spring.

Relations, though, will have become more brittle,
particularly following a telephone conversation on Thursday
between the two about the press briefing given by Ahern in
Co Cavan, during which he defended accepting the money and
denied he'd been in any way compromised. The T naiste had
missed the broadcast of Ahern's Cavan comments on RT's
News At One because he'd been speaking in the Seanad on the
International Criminal Court Bill.

Shortly before 3pm, McDowell, who had by then returned to
his Department of Justice offices in St Stephen's Green,
received a transcript of the Cavan comments broadcast on
RT. Having read it, McDowell, say close friends, was
despondent, conscious that the Taoiseach had failed to
answer the questions, thereby raising serious issues about
McDowell's decision the previous evening to offer support
to Ahern, however qualified.

Outside the Legal Aid Board offices in Upper Mount Street
after 4pm, McDowell was grave, warning that his concerns
"have not been addressed entirely or completely" by Ahern's

McDowell's decision, within days of becoming T naiste, not
to reappoint Mary Harney's programme manager, Katherine
Bulbulia - who had worked closely with her opposite number
in Fianna F il, Gerry Hickey, and who was one of those who
persuaded Harney to stay on as party leader before the
summer break - may have removed a useful line of
communication, too, at a time when many in the Progressive
Democrats are complaining that they are being left out of
the loop.

In jovial and relaxed humour early yesterday in Farmleigh,
the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dermot Ahern, invited
journalists to pose questions about the affair.

Strongly supporting the Taoiseach, Dermot Ahern may have
also been sending a message to the junior Coalition
partners that they must not raise the bar too high, by
saying that he did not understand the PD's concerns.

For now, Dermot Ahern and others are betting that McDowell
has left room for manoeuvre.

Asked what questions needed to be answered by Bertie Ahern,
the PD leader said on Thursday: "Well, a very significant
number: who the donors were, as best that can be done; what
the nature of the [ Manchester] event was; what the funds
were intended for and what they were used for. And all of
those issues, and what category of payment do they fit
into? Was it a gift, a loan, a political donation, a
personal donation? All of these issues have to be

In the political maelstrom, where judgment can become
clouded and rushed, McDowell may have difficulty accepting
that Ahern should not name names - which he clearly cannot,
or does not want to do.

The Thursday afternoon call between the two men was made
after Ahern stopped his chauffeur-driven Mercedes S350 in
Kingscourt, Co Cavan. Then he was quickly ushered into a
small office for a further round of telephone calls when he
reached Cavan town.

BESIDES ESCAPING DAMAGE in the Sunday newspapers - the
importance of which cannot be too highly emphasised - Ahern
must cool the situation between now and Tuesday, when he is
due to face Opposition questions in the D il, though he
will have to inform McDowell about the content of his
statement long before he goes into the D il that afternoon.

The list of possible outcomes is limited: Ahern could be
forced out; or he could stay, with his political
credibility badly damaged; or the Progressive Democrats
could pull out of government (which McDowell does not want
to do, but which he believes is becoming increasingly

The PD leader faces his own political problems too. "If the
PDs get so close to FF that they are tarred, then we are
buggered. He has to be careful that that doesn't happen,"
says one PD.

The one outcome that is highly unlikely, however, is that
Ahern will quit, or be told to do so, and then be replaced
by Brian Cowen, with the Coalition proceeding smoothly on.
Cowen, the accepted leader-in-waiting, would have to
reverse the habits of a lifetime for such an outcome to

"His default mode is loyalty. He would not tolerate that
happening in a month of Sundays. No way," says one TD.

HOWEVER, AHERN'S POLITICAL obituary is not yet written,
especially because he is still the most popular politician
in the country, even if he has had much of the gloss
removed from him in recent days.

In Co Cavan on Thursday, Fianna F il went to considerable
lengths to stage-manage the crowd that greeted him during
his whistle-stop tour of the county, carrying out a dozen
engagements during the day - but there was little denying
his genuine popularity.

However, there were moments when Ahern's air of calm and
composure evaporated, revealing flashes of anger, as when
he snapped at Independent Network News political
correspondent Ken Murray.

"In light of past revelations about politicians in the
past, and your comments at the 1997 ardfheis, why didn't
you reveal this before?" Murray asked.

"I did, into the tribunals," Ahern replied.

"But why not in public?" pressed Murray.

"Because the tribunal told me that anything I reveal is
confidential. The point is, I'm not allowed. Do you
understand how the tribunals work? I mean, you're long
enough covering them," he snapped.

Such moments with Ahern are rare, but they have become
known by the press who spend their time reporting on him as
displays of "Bertie's inner gurrier".

Following visits to Ballyjamesduff, Cavan, Shercock,
Cootehill and elsewhere, Ahern finished up back in Cavan's
Kilmore Hotel, where he stayed until 10pm greeting people
and signing autographs.

Rallying the FF troops for the next general election, he
made no reference to the current controversy when he told
party supporters that he had that day just become the
longest-serving Taoiseach since Eamon de Valera.

To cheers, he told them that he would "be leading FF back
into government next year", though he did not expect to
beat "the Long Fella's" record.

Right now, Bertie Ahern could be forgiven just for wanting
to be certain that he will last this week.


Crafting The Bertie Brand

Hugh Linehan

Connect: George W Bush is never happier than when hacking
at brush on his Texas ranch. Tony Blair loves to throw off
his jacket, roll up his shirtsleeves and get down to work.
Bertie Ahern is in his element with a pint of Bass in
Fagan's and Man U on the telly.

These carefully crafted images of the Common Man may all
bear some resemblance to some aspect of these men's
personalities - for them to be most effective, it is
preferable that they do. But they have progressed far
beyond that to become massively important political
archetypes. They are high-value brands, to be tampered with
at your peril.

As Pat Rabbitte pointed out in the D il this week, Bertie
Ahern has had a State car and driver at his disposal for
most of his adult life. His salary, and the status and
trappings conferred by his office, place him in the top
sliver of Irish society. Yet, despite some improvement in
his tailoring over the years, the image of Anorak Bertie
still persists. This is the condition to which most modern
politicians aspire; surrounded by the accoutrements of
power, they must at all costs still appear to be plain,
honest folk.

The process seems furthest advanced (or debased, if you
prefer) in the English-speaking world. It's hard to imagine
Jacques Chirac trying to pretend that he's a man of the
people. In the US, however, even the most metropolitan
politicians must pretend to be James Stewart in Mr Smith
Goes to Washington, ornery folk railing against the Beltway
sophisticates. Authenticity (whatever that might be) is

It can all go horribly wrong. The derision which greeted an
ill-advised attempt by Gordon Brown to suggest a fondness
for the Arctic Monkeys, or the unconvincing sight of Al
Gore and John Kerry trying to disguise their patrician
roots, show the dangers of total personality reconstruction
in pursuit of popularity. But, in the UK at the moment, old
Etonian David Cameron is having some success in rebranding
himself as eco-conscious, hoodie-loving, ordinary Dave
Bloke. Cameron is the purest example yet in the political
sphere of Jean Baudrillard's definition of a simulacrum, "a
truth which hides the fact there is none". What Baudrillard
was describing used to be called an idol, a word popular
among the makers of reality TV shows. And the spurious
authenticity of reality TV is the condition to which
politics increasingly aspires.

Consider the Taoiseach's face in last Tuesday's television
interview. To this viewer, it appeared far greyer than
usual. The pinkness of his lips stood out against the
pallid skin. The overall effect was of a man who had not
been sleeping well, who had been wrestling with demons.

He looked, in short, as anyone looks who hasn't submitted
themselves to the attentions of a make-up artist before
exposing themselves to the harsh lights of TV. Ahern's
substantial cosmetics budget is a matter of public record,
so what happened on Tuesday? This was a very bad make-up
job - or a very good one. While his words avoided any
suggestion of wrongdoing or remorse, his pallor and body
language were those of a penitent. Message delivered.

However, events later in the week suggest that something is
malfunctioning at the heart of Fianna F il's spin machine.
But, whatever happens in the next few days, can the
Opposition take advantage in the run-up to the election?
The billboards currently being erected around the country
by Fine Gael suggest not. In these excruciatingly awful
ads, Enda Kenny is seen in Blair-esque shirtsleeves,
getting ready to fix the country. Or presumably that's the
idea. Not to put too fine a point on it, he looks both
embarrassed and embarrassing, like a character from a
particularly cruel Ricky Gervais sketch. His head is cocked
at a peculiar angle, reminiscent of that adopted by Dermot
Morgan in Father Ted when he was assuring us that the money
was only resting in his account. If anyone in Fine Gael had
an iota of sense, they would go out and rip these things
down before they do any further damage.

"Serious" political analysts may decry such superficiality.
But the electorate is acutely tuned to the nuances of media
presentation. It is extremely sophisticated in decoding the
signals conveyed. At a deep, sometimes subconscious level,
it will react to those signals, and will make its decision

The revelations in The Irish Times about Bertie Ahern's
whip-round have whipped up the biggest political twister in
several years. It remains to be seen exactly how that story
ultimately plays out, but it has convulsed and energised
the political classes at the outset of the last D il term
before the election.

Its effect on the majority of the population, those less
exercised by the minutiae of politics, those whom Bertie
Ahern was effectively addressing this week, remains to be

Eddie Holt is on leave
c The Irish Times


100,000 Oysters To Meet Their Maker As Galway Festival Begins

Michelle McDonagh

An estimated 100,000 oysters will be consumed and about
10,000 pints of Guinness taken during the 52nd Galway
International Oyster Festival this weekend.

The 2006 festival guest of honour will be Galway golfer
Christy O'Connor Jnr.

More than 12,000 people are expected to attend the festival
events, most of which take place in the huge festival
marquee at Nimmo's Pier, as well as a number of city

With an increased entry of 18 countries, this year's event
will bring an even larger number of international visitors
to Galway and is estimated to be worth ?7 million to the

Oyster opening champions from the 18 countries will vie for
the prestigious Guinness World Oyster Opening Championship
title on Saturday afternoon, which last year went to

This is the largest number of countries ever to take part
in the competition and for the first time ever there will
be entrants from South Africa and Slovakia.

Neil McNeilis, PRO of the festival, has promised an even
bigger and better festival this year, and there has been a
huge demand for tickets.

Leading today's festival parade will be this year's Oyster
Pearl, Julie Foy, who will be joined by crew from the LE
Aisling, the Naval Service patrol ship which celebrates 10
years of being adopted by the city of Galway.

c The Irish Times


Going Wild For Mooney


Profile: He is already a familiar face from our TV screens
and a reassuring voice on the radio, but the launch of his
new afternoon radio show will be a big step up for Derek
Mooney, writes Kate Holmquist

With the exception of Liveline, where the whinge-fest is
occasionally entertaining, afternoons on RT Radio 1 have
been in a slump for a long time. So the challenge was to
bring in something invigorating, provocative and amusing to
tempt the awkward mix of people who listen to radio in the
afternoons, mainly housewives, retired people and
commuters. To introduce something that would tempt people
away from TV, the shopping, the children and the fresh air
of living and make them listen to the radio.

But when RT's radio chief Ana Leddy announced that Derek
Mooney was to become Radio 1's newest star with Afternoon
Ireland, his own Monday to Friday afternoon slot, starting
next week, there were a few gasps of surprise in RT. His
friends say, though, that the only person who was truly
shocked was 39-year-old Mooney himself. He couldn't quite
believe it, even though the rather bland golden boy had
been working towards this day since he was a teenager.

A lover of nature and the eccentric naturalists whom he has
featured on his successful Saturday morning radio show, he
is the same Derek Mooney who presided over the reality TV
series Cabin Fever in 2003. He was apparently determined
that none of the contestants would be embarrassed when,
actually, that might have been the whole point. He managed
to turn walking the plank into a scene with the excitement
of a needlepoint class.

A true radio swot, who fell in love with the medium when so
many others of his generation were emigrating, Mooney's
first appearance on RT TV was as an 18-year-old with an
appearance on Anything Goes, a young people's TV programme
devised and produced by Aonghus McAnally.

Two decades later, it is McAnally who is producing Mooney's
venture into the big time - 10 hours per week of radio. The
fact that McAnally - a friend of Mooney's for the past 20
years - is producing the programme says something about
Mooney. He's a one-man band, used to both producing and
presenting his previous programme, Mooney Goes Wild. He's a
private person with few friends in RT aside from the
trusted circle he works with directly. Outside that circle,
people know him to see but few seem to really know him.

The greatest challenge for Mooney will be the experience of
being produced by someone else. This could be messy. Mooney
is used to controlling completely the content of Mooney
Goes Wild, the Saturday morning RT Radio 1 nature
programme that is now moving to Friday afternoons as part
of Afternoon Ireland. Most recent figures show that Mooney
Goes Wild was listened to by 269,000 adults, gaining 12,000
listeners last year at a time when some bigger names lost

But the shift from Saturday mornings to weekday afternoons
is a big leap that will have to be filled with more than
jackdaws, corncrakes and the strange habits of domestic

Mooney's education in media and broadcasting was self-
motivated. Not for him the degree courses in media and
journalism. In his early 20s, he began by working as a
"runner", the lowest rung of the broadcasting ladder, doing
everything and anything in order to learn the business from
the ground up.

The result is that he developed instincts that are among
the best in the business, say his admirers.

Despite his ambition he comes across on air as having no
ego to satisfy and always puts his guests centre stage. He
is willing to allow a panellist or contributor to express
themselves naturally, even if this means straying from the
brief on to a tangent that listeners sense is spontaneous.
This makes for good radio, but the new show has 10 hours of
air-time to fill, peppered with news and traffic updates
and a producer guiding the pace of the show. Mooney will
have to rein his instincts in a little, while keeping that
inoffensive boyish curiosity and spontaneity that Leddy
seems to think the Irish public can't get enough of.

There's no doubt that Mooney has been genuinely dedicated
to wildlife and the preservation of the Irish countryside -
although he has steadfastly refused to preach or take
stands on issues. This makes him the opposite of pundits
such as Gerry Ryan, Pat Kenny and presenters on Newstalk,
which went national yesterday.

The only thing that Mooney is known to ever have had a
strong opinion on is the bad service given in exchange for
bin charges in D£n Laoghaire/Rathdown County Council. This
lack of vigour could make for some dead air. His reluctance
to get involved in the harder environmental issues, such as
planning, is due partly to his belief that politics is
boring. He also believes that there is nothing to be gained
by getting involved in rows over the impact of roads and
development on the natural environment until the public
comprehends the more fundamental issue of what it is that
they should protect.

FAIR ENOUGH, BUT as much as the Irish public fell in love
with the dawn chorus, it will be interesting to see how
much patience they have with Mooney as he attempts to come
to grips with a far wider range of human interest stories.
Covering these, he will succeed if he uses the same
inquiring approach he did to the niche subject of nature,
although his trainspotter tendency to focus on odd little
details may not appeal to those who don't share his
approach. His researchers are working overtime to provide
him with eccentrics, but Ireland may not have as many as
Mooney hopes if he's to keep his show quirky enough to
provide the unexpected, rather than the predictable,
homogeneous mix we're used to in radioland.

His niche area helped him win two prestigious prizes -
first prize at the Prix Europa Radio and TV Awards and the
ESB Millennium Environment Award, both for nature
programmes. And, to his credit, he has worked overtime to
build up his profile. He has developed his nature platform
in RT like no other broadcaster, investing hundreds of
hours in the Mooney Goes Wild website, for example, which
he used to gain listener loyalty. But if those same
Saturday morning listeners are at work or at school Monday
to Friday, Mooney will have an uphill battle to win over
ordinary folk who aren't already fans.

Although his lack of oomph hasn't prevented him from
promoting RT Radio 1 with an enthusiasm that few others
have for the station, as listeners turn to local radio.
When Mooney conceived the idea of distributing a CD of the
dawn chorus with the RT Guide, 140,000 copies of the
magazine sold out. Mooney has coupled this with visits to
schools, where he takes his role as an environmental
educator seriously - building up his image in the process.

He seems to get on with people of whatever age and is never
annoyed by being asked for an autograph or picture. On
Winning Streak, the audience is seen to adore his bright,
breezy manner and he has a knack for connecting with the
over-60s, a talent that could pay off with his afternoon
target audience.

BUT THE QUESTION remains, how many more bland golden boy
presenters is RT going to unleash on us before it gets the
message that two hours of music and "magazine" items in the
afternoon, aimed at a wide audience, may be too ill-defined
to come across as anything more than aural porridge with
perhaps a few raisins thrown in? Mooney's advocates say
that he should succeed if he uses the same thoughtful,
inquiring, whimsical and light-hearted approach to human
subjects as he has to animal ones.

His friends don't doubt that he's up to the job, but when
pressed on who Mooney is as a private person, they are more
reluctant. It's not that he has anything to hide, but he
appears to be so obsessed with radio that it's hard to get
him to talk about anything else. What you see is what you
get, they say. He likes to travel at the spur of the
moment, loves to eat out (the Trocadero is his favourite
restaurant) and that's pretty much it.

He's the sort of friend, one female colleague said, who
will ring you up for a chat and if he finds out you're
stuck at home with your young children and feeling fed up,
he will get in his Audi saloon and drive a long distance to
pick you up and take you out to dinner. He's the type, says
another, who sends you flowers to congratulate you on a new

There's a quality to him that makes him as interested in
getting precisely right the ingredients and cooking methods
for a chicken dinner at home, as he would be for briefing
himself on the garden snail for a radio programme.

And he's not a gossip. Eating out with friends is his
thing, but if the conversation strays to hearsay about
other people, he'll stop the talk cold by saying,
"Actually, that person is a friend of mine." This loyalty
could be one reason why, when he was "outed" by Des Bishop
on Ray D'Arcy's Today FM show, his friends, colleagues and
acquaintances rallied around. He was a bit upset at first,
mostly for his parents, but soon decided that the best
answer to the question, "So you're gay?" was "So what?"
Those who know him say, however, that he's taking his new
programme very seriously and is the least likely person to
say "so what?" if it doesn't succeed.

On the other hand, if he's not happy doing it, he'll quit.
His philosophy of life seems to be "If it doesn't make you
happy, what's the point?" His radio listeners will surely
be thinking the same, as their hands hover over that dial.

The Mooney File

Who is he?

Presenter of new RT Radio 1 magazine programme, Afternoon
Ireland, Monday to Friday, 3-5pm

Why is he in the news?

RTE Radio 1's great hope for boosting afternoon audiences,
which were dwindling on a diet of Rattlebag and John

Most appealing characteristic

Loves animals and nature

Least appealing characteristic

Bland, despite what his admirers say

Most likely to say

"Do you think birds dream?"

Least likely to say

"That RT show Cabin Fever was the highlight of my career"

c The Irish Times

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