Bertie Ahern remains “hugely popular” with the general public and his return will be a huge plus for Fianna Fáil, according to one of the party’s former ministers.
Fianna Fáil yesterday confirmed that the three-time Taoiseach had re-joined the party 11 years after he resigned under a cloud of controversy over the findings of the Mahon Tribunal.
He will not have voting rights within the party until he has served a full year as a ‘provisional member.’
His return has been welcomed by many within the party and on Newstalk Breakfast, former Fianna Fáil minister Conor Lenihan described it as a “very welcome thing”.
“I think, in particular, his skills of organisation, which ultimately, when I was elected in 1997, won us three successive general elections will also be a huge, if you like, plus for the party because we really do need people of great wisdom like him advising the party on its electoral and on its candidate strategies and indeed on its policy matters,” he said.
Ahern resigned from Fianna Fáil in 2012 after the party confirmed plans to expel him over the findings of the Mahon Tribunal, which spent 15 years investigating corrupt payments to politicians.
The tribunal found that Ahern had been ‘untruthful’ in his explanations for how large amounts of monies were lodged into his bank account by wealthy supporters of Fianna Fáil while he was finance minister.
Ahern had told the tribunal that the lodgements were personal ‘dig-outs’ from friends to help pay for his legal bills following his divorce rather than payments from property developers in return for Fianna Fáil’s help with planning applications.
The tribunal’s final report stopped short of accusing Ahern of outright corruption but it noted that it had found much of his explanations regarding the lodgements into his account to be untrue.
Mr Ahern resigned from Fianna Fáil after Micheál Martin proposed expelling him from the party – but has always insisted he never accepted a bribe or a corrupt payment.
Mr Lenihan told Newstalk that he believes Mr Ahern remains popular with the general public.
“Of course there will always be criticism, that is the nature of politics but I think the most important thing to remember here is whenever I am out and about … he is hugely welcomed and hugely popular still,” he said.
“I think there needs to be a distinction made between what we might call opinion as it is expressed online and in media and what the ordinary public think.
“Anytime I have been out and about with him and meet him socially or otherwise, he is mobbed with people.
“People are always more than keen to get up and shake his hand. So, it is a slightly different reality in fact; he is still, in my view, quite popular with the public.”
He said Mr Ahern will be an asset to Fianna Fáil in the coming years.
“Oh, good Lord, yes of course,” he said.
“Maybe some of your listeners are not fully aware of this but he has supreme skills of organisation in terms of the political skills that he has at his fingertips if you like,” he said.
“He is a brilliant man to organise elections, to reorganise party strictures and to keep in touch with a party base.”
Mr Lenihan said the former Taoiseach will help revitalise a party that is “clearly at sea at the moment”.
“The party is very much languishing in the opinion polls,” he said.
“It needs to reorganise, rebrand and in fact, maybe even change significantly its policies in advance of the next general election and I think this is a man who has been through all this before and can draw on an awful lot of other people, contacts and friendships he has had over the years, that would help the party.
“So you know I would love to see him back in a backroom role helping to reorganise a party that is clearly very tired and struggling while it is fulfilling its important duties in government."
Mr Ahern has been strongly linked with a run for the presidency in 2025 – something Mr Lenihan refused to rule out.