Bertie Ahern says that it would have been ‘nice’ to lead the country during the biggest financial crisis in the state’s history.
Ahern says that he would have liked the challenge of being Taoiseach during the financial crisis while he blames the media for not keeping close attention on the economy and ‘lazy’ TDs and party members for Fianna Fail’s result in February’s general election.
In a frank interview with Dublin City University’s student radio station DCUfm, the former Taoiseach also said that he thinks people should acknowledge his governments for ‘bringing the economy up’.
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Ahern said that he would not have resigned as Taoiseach in May 2008 if he had known the economy was ‘going to turn down so quick’ and that he would have liked to have been Taoiseach during the financial crisis.
‘I would have stayed on because that would have been exciting and interesting and nice,’ he said, ‘the whole thing about politics is that you’re in for tough times and tough decisions and I would have liked that kind of a challenge’.
The former Taoiseach claims that his governments don’t get enough credit for bringing economic prosperity to Ireland.
‘An economy is always up and down, we brought it up,’ he said in the interview to be broadcast this Tuesday, ‘I always claim that if people blame us for bringing down the economy, they also have to blame us for bringing it up’.
Ahern described criticism that it was his policies which left the country unable to withstand the pressures of the banking crisis as ‘unfair’.
‘My answer to them who say if we didn’t spend so much we wouldn’t have had the banking crisis: well that’s nonsense,’ he said.
‘People abroad just see these as world problems and Ireland is just another one suffering from it. They don’t see it the way we do at all,’ he added.
‘Even if we knew the banking crisis was coming I don’t think we could have done anything’.
Ahern rejected suggestions that he should have followed warnings from the Department of Finances about his economic policies, especially regarding the property bubble.
‘In fairness, the Department of Finance give you warnings about everything’, he said, ‘if we didn’t build half a million houses people would have ended up living on the side of the street and the Department of Finance would still be saying don’t build houses’.
Ahern, who tipped his ‘good friend’ Gay Mitchell to win the presidency in the summer, criticised the media for not following the economy in his final year as Taoiseach.
‘The media just stopped following the economy, there should be an investigation into it,’ he said, ‘they should have been following the economy from August 2007 but they weren’t, they were following me. I think a lot of these guys really should have looked at themselves’.
‘The government were following the economy but the media weren’t, it was a very poor job by the media really’.
Ahern also criticised ‘lazy’ party members and TDs for Fianna Fail’s disastrous election result in February when it lost 57 seats.
‘I think too many members of the party got too god damn lazy,’ he said, ‘they were all doing too well and they weren’t prepared to get out and do the slog’.
When asked if Fianna Fail TDs were lazy too Ahern replied ‘A lot of them’, before adding ‘I heard a lot of the TDs in the last general election, they said they were absolutely astonished and astounded when they went out and found out how angry people were. Well if you were out every week you’d know’.
Despite his party’s election result, Ahern claims he ‘would have won a seat in this election…I wouldn’t have topped the poll this time, it was going to be a tough thing’. However, Ahern confirmed he had no interest in running.
In an extract from the DCUfm interview released previously, Ahern claimed he ‘would have done alright’ in the presidential election and would have sat with around 30% of the vote.
Ahern said that his former running mate Cllr. Mary Fitzpatrick has no right to feel aggrieved for the way he treated her in the 2007 general election.
Cllr. Fitzpatrick has criticised Ahern for circulating a letter on the morning of the election directing voters to give their first preference vote to Ahern and their second preference to Ahern’s former constituency secretary Cyprian Brady. Brady subsequently won a Dail seat with just 939 first preference votes.
‘In 2007 she was lucky to be on the ticket, said Ahern, ‘she should be honoured that she was on the ticket. She had no right to think she should have won a seat. In fact, if anyone was entitled to a seat it was Cyprian’.
The former Taoiseach expressed regret for partaking in a television ad where he appeared in a cupboard promoting his weekly sports column for the News of the World.
‘I didn’t put any thought into it’ he said, ‘I mean it was kind of a stupid idea. Everybody kind of goes mad about it. It was drummed up by a handful of people’.
Ahern thinks that Enda Kenny is doing an ‘ok’ job since being elected Taoiseach in February.
‘He is steady-as-it-goes,’ he said, ‘I mean he is doing ok. As time goes you’ll get the belts. They made a mess of Roscommon but you’ll get big issues and small issues and Roscommon isn’t a big issue really, they just need to keep it steady’.
Ahern also described how he was close to former Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, who died of pancreatic cancer last June.
‘Brian was a guy who kept in touch with me most,’ he said, ‘He kept in touch with me a few times a week, down to me house every second week, I kept in touch with him a lot over the last few years’.
The Mahon Tribunal is expected to reject Ahern’s explanations for receiving large sums of foreign currency as beyond belief but Ahern, who described this as ‘trash’, doesn’t think the Tribunal will ruin his political legacy.
‘The big things when I go around the country now, and even outside the country,’ he explained, ‘you’re remembered about Northern Ireland, you’re remembered about the infrastructure’.
While on the Mahon Tribunal Ahern said ‘It’s not sustainable that you can set up a structure that goes on for 14 years, it’s a nonsense’.
Bertie Ahern is currently in Spain trying to broker a peace agreement between Basque separatists and the Spanish government. The interview with DCUfm was conducted as part of a broader student research project.