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Time for Bertie to show leadership

Wednesday, September 07, 2005 The Western People, Editorial
One of the key speakers at Fianna Fáil’s think-tank in Cavan was Robert Putman, an acclaimed Harvard professor whose book ‘Bowling Alone’ explores the decline of community values in America. Putman’s role at the Fianna Fáil gathering is similar to the task performed by Fr Sean Healy of CORI last year when he unwittingly allowed himself to be used by Bertie Ahern to present a caring, sharing image of the Government. After the Inchydonny charade last summer Bertie famously declared that he was Ireland’s last great socialist. We can expect similar guff later this week. The reality is that one would have to lift an awful lot of stones to find evidence from the last eight years to support Bertie Ahern’s persistent contention that he wants a more equitable society in Ireland. If anything, Ireland is a far less equitable society than it was when Bertie Ahern first became Taoiseach in 1997. The Taoiseach should not need an American professor to come to Ireland – at huge cost to the taxpayer, no doubt – to tell him what every person in this country can see with their own two eyes. Of course, community values are on the wane in this country. They are in decline because of the policies espoused and practiced by Bertie Ahern and his ilk since 1997. Mr Ahern only has to travel to North Mayo to see the trauma and fear that have been caused by his myopic, cowardly policies. The community in Erris has been rent asunder by the Shell debacle. People in the area are crying out for strong, sensible leadership at this time. Yet all they are getting from Government politicians is hard wringing and empty platitudes – if they even get that. This column has commented extensively in recent weeks on the ongoing stand-off in Erris between local residents and Shell E&P Ireland. While there is always a danger of becoming monotonous by persistently re-emphasising a particular point of view, it is, perhaps, time to look at the Government’s role in the whole Rossport affair, particularly when one is presented with the nauseating prospect of Bertie Ahern advocating a return to community values.It has to be said that Bertie Ahern’s attitude to the Rossport controversy has been so cowardly that one wonders how the man can call himself the leader of a democratic nation. It is absolutely extraordinary to think that five innocent men are in their third month of imprisonment in a so-called democracy and the leader of the day has not seen fit to make any comment whatsoever. Mr Ahern has been fortunate that the Dáil has been in recess since the day after the men were jailed and, no doubt, he hoped that the men’s resolve might have cracked by the time the Dáil reconvened. It hasn’t happened and it won’t happen. Mr Ahern will eventually have to make a comment on the Rossport controversy. He has spent the summer with his head firmly buried in the sand in the hope that the problem will have miraculously gone away by the time the holidays are over. But it won’t go away and Bertie Ahern will have to face up to his inept handling of the single, most important infrastructural project proposed for this country during his eight-year tenure as Taoiseach. Ahern and others in Fianna Fáil may wish to portray the Corrib debacle as nothing more than a minor bout of agrarian unrest out in the wild west. But they are fooling no-one. Corrib is a project of enormous magnitude and the reality is that it is – to quote Sean O’Casey – in “a state of chassis”. Bertie Ahern has to bear the responsibility for this mess. He was the man who appointed Frank Fahey to the Marine portfolio in 1997. The fact that he subsequently demoted Fahey to a junior position suggests that he was less than enamoured by the Galway man’s handling of the Corrib project. Yet it is not good enough for Ahern to simply lay the blame at Fahey’s door. Ahern has to take responsibility himself. He may want to portray himself as nothing more than a disinterested bystander in the Corrib saga but the truth is rather different. And anyone who has followed this project will know exactly what this writer means.On September 19th, 2003, Bertie Ahern and Andy Pyle held a meeting in the Taoiseach’s office in Government Buildings. It was three months after An Bord Pleanála had shot down Shell’s first proposal for a gas terminal at Bellanaboy. Mr Pyle and his gang of corporate bullies were obviously none to happy as they had hoped to have their gas terminal in place at that stage. We don’t know what happened at the meeting but it’s safe to assume that they weren’t discussing Dublin’s chances in the All-Ireland championship. Ironically, September 19th, 2003, is etched in the memory of most Erris people for a completely different reason. Later that evening a landslide devastated the Pullathomas area, only a few short miles from the terminal site at Bellanaboy. Had Shell’s original plans gone ahead – plans that this writer would describe as criminal – 500,000 tonnes of waste peat would have been precariously perched on a hill at Bellanaboy, only a few kilometres away from Carrowmore Lake, the source of the entire water supply for the Erris region. Some might say that it is sensationalism to suggest that the landslides of 2003 would have impacted on the Bellanaboy terminal if it were in place. And maybe it is. Yet one cannot forget the words of David Ball, a geologist employed by An Bord Pleanála, when he stated that Shell had utterly failed to consider the potential impact of bog bursts or bog slides in its plans for the terminal. Ball was an expert. He knew what he was talking about and he was clearly perturbed by the reckless plans Shell had put before him. Two years later, the words of Ball – and his colleague, Kevin Moore – have a chilling resonance: The proposal is wholly unacceptable...The serious threat to the local community and the wider environment should not be tolerated.Kevin Moore’s devastating report in May 2003 should have put an end to the Corrib Gas project at Bellanaboy. Indeed, when Andy Pyle came knocking on Bertie Ahern’s door a few months later he should have been told to clear off and only come back when he had a sensible, responsible plan for processing the gas that had been so generously given to him free gratis by a corrupt former minister. Instead, Bertie Ahern – the great leader who wants to educate us all on community values – capitulated in the face of corporate intimidation. Bertie Ahern’s job on September 19th, 2003, was to protect the people that he purports to govern instead of pandering to the insatiable demands of a multinational with an appalling track record on human rights. He let down his own people on that September day and he sowed the seeds for all that has happened since – including the indefinite imprisonment of five innocent men.But time is running out for the last great socialist. If his old buddy, Andy Pyle, does not do him a favour and release the Rossport Five in the next three weeks Bertie Ahern will have to face some rigorous and uncomfortable questioning in Dáil Eireann about his utterly inept handling of the largest infrastructural project in the lifetime of his Government. Somehow, I think he will need something more than a few glib lines from an American guru to bluff his way out of this one.

Posted Date: 
7 September 2005 - 9:32pm