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British and Irish leaders at their own crossroads

(Tom Kelly, Irish News)

Irish political chameleon Pat Rabbitte is fond of talking up the past of others – whether they are in Fianna Fail, Sinn Féin, or the PDs. The man likes to drag up every quote ever uttered by anyone (with the exception of his own) and likes it to be swallowed whole and undigested.

Even his 'newest, best mates' in Fine Gael have previously been known to be 'Rabbitted at' from time to time.

Comrade Rabbitte hopes the latest revelations into the financial affairs of Bertie Ahern will now see the end of a long journey for a party that was once Sinn Féin the Workers Party, then The Workers Party, then New Agenda to Democratic Left and now The Labour Party as it prepares to wield power in a Fine Gael-led government. It's hard to imagine a man with such a colourful political history to be deserving of the term 'Stickie' but Comrade Rabbitte has stuck to one path; an almost relentless one of self promotion even if it ends up in a Rainbow Coalition run by George, Zippy and Bungle!

The Workers Party/Democratic Left takeover of the Irish Labour Party has to be his greatest achievement to date.

The Labour Party, like ill-fated and latter-day Trojans, was sold the advantages of a great coalition of the Left which would create a third force in Irish politics. Fortunately, the Irish public were not as gullible as the Labour Party and decided not to reward the one-time Stalinist admirers with any additional seats in the Dail.

True to their Marxist roots and now under threat on the regressive Left by the growth of Sinn Féin, Comrade Rabbitte and his other one-time Workers Party cronies are among the most strident denouncers of Gerry and the Peacemakers.

That such stridence could not have found a voice when the half the peoples of Europe were under the cosh of communist dictators is hardly surprising but then many of us remember (even if power-hungry, amnesic Labour lickspittles don't) Sinn Féin-The Workers Party and The Workers Party as organisations which refused to accept Official IRA criminality until it became an electoral liability in 1992. Yet all too often political pragmatism is driven by the maxim of my 'enemy's enemy is my friend' and Enda Kenny and others may yet come to rue their decision to lie with a lion in a Rabbitte suit.

The taoiseach, like Tony Blair has found himself between a rock and a hard place. There is no doubt that both are by far the most successful politicians in these islands. Bertie is by no means a saint and if by that he is a sinner his sins are no worse than any of ours.

Having worked with politicians of all shapes and hue in Ireland, Britain and the USA for nearly 20 years I know of few who have not some weaknesses between their private and public personae. In fact politics does not so much corrupt politicians as much as it exploits and exposes those weaknesses.

Of course, when those weaknesses expose themselves or are exposed, the public has an almost insatiable appetite for the salacious details.

Bertie clearly put himself in a compromising position but not a corrupt position.

Certainly in the context of his personal situation at that time, the amount of money involved and the friends who contributed suggest that his vulnerability should be seen as personal vulnerability not professional liability.

It is shameful that Irish politics has come to this nadir.

Of course, there are those who cannot resist the opportunity to kick a person when they are down but how many would like their most personal details the subject of bar room gossip?

Journalists can't get enough of the Bertie incident but, as Rod Liddle in The Spectator found out, journalists who peddle the double standards of politicians also have a privileged position in society and cannot expect their own virtue or lack of it to pass without scrutiny. It is not so much a case of shooting the messenger but making sure that the messengers are not applying standards to others they would not apply to themselves.

One suspects that few in journalism would want that ruler run over their private affairs.

It is ironic that the two men who have invested so much in peace should find their careers unravelling on the corner of yet another Northern Ireland crossroads; that both would have been better served looking after affairs their own backyards may yet be proved.

October 3, 2006

This article appeared first in the October 2, 2006 edition of the Irish News.

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