Four years ago, when Fianna Fáil was returned for a third consecutive stint in office, electoral pundits could barely find enough superlatives for the role played by Bertie Ahern and Brian Cowen in the party's triumph. Ahern, they said, was a 'political tsunami', and Cowen, if anything, even more formidable. This time around, neither Ahern nor Cowen was standing, rightly fearing the vengeance of the electorate. Cowen's awe-inspiring competence now seems a quaint legend of the barely remembered past, as difficult to credit as the notion that Irish people could once hear de Valera speak of 'the romping of sturdy children, the contest of athletic youths and the laughter of happy maidens' without sniggering. Ahern, Cowen's predecessor as taoiseach, who was lucky enough to be turfed out just before the economic storm broke, used his final appearance in the Dáil to explain what he regretted most about his time at the wheel: the failure of a self-aggrandising stadium project in Dublin, nicknamed the 'Bertie Bowl', which had led his own coalition partners to compare him to Nicolae Ceausescu. With this mea culpa went the news that the man of the people would be drawing a pension of almost EUR160,000 for his endeavours as taoiseach.
LRB 17 March 2011 | PDF Download