From Hero to Zero: Why Former Irish Leader Bertie Ahern Has Now Quit Politics

12/31/2010 09:18 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

If you needed proof that all political careers end in failure look no further than former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern.

Ahern announced on Thursday he was quitting Irish politics, not running again for his seat on Dublin's north side in the upcoming election, likely to be held in March.

The sad fact is that he would have had considerable difficulty getting elected given how much his stock has plummeted.

Prime Minister for ten years from 1997, Ahern presided over the seemingly miraculous Celtic Tiger and played a leading role in the Irish peace process that ended the longest running guerrilla war in Europe.

He left office in April 2008 festooned with garlands. He made a farewell victory lap that included an address to a joint session of the U.S. parliament and a similar address to the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

He seemed set for the elder statesman role and a future run for president of Ireland, a largely ceremonial position that seemed his for the taking.

Indeed, there were grand plans to travel the world extolling the Irish economic miracle.
Instead he had hardly left office a day when the edifice of financial prosperity he had left as his legacy began tumbling down behind him.

It was sparked originally by the Lehman failure in the U.S. but the rotten core at the heart of the Celtic Tiger was suddenly exposed.

The property market bubble, strongly endorsed and pushed by Ahern at the height of his power, burst with the force of an exploding septic tank showering excrement in every direction.
Much of it landed on Ahern. His government's failure to regulate what the banks were doing,especially the runaway Anglo Irish Bank, his tight links to major businessman at the heart of the crash, the clear corruption evident in the field of planning permission and permits all cascaded down upon him.

Overnight he went from one of the most admired to reviled figures in Ireland and it has all been downhill since.

His demise is a salutary lesson in absolute power. For 22 of 24 years his party Fianna Fail had been in government and during that time a cozy cartel at the heart of banking, business and politics had essentially run the show, much of it for their own benefit.

When it all came crashing down and the IMF moved in Ahern and his party took the brunt of the criticism. Fianna Fail support is currently at 17 per cent, down from 44 per cent at the last election. They are facing a complete wipeout in urban areas such as Dublin.

That, not the Celtic Tiger may be Ahern's legacy.

Yet his legacy is more complex than that. Every Northern Ireland expert agrees that he played an incredible role in creating the and sustaining the Irish peace process, that without his trojan efforts the war in Northern ireland would still be ongoing.

That is a legacy he can be very proud of and it is deserved.

But this overall demise is a signal to every politician to gather your garlands while you may. These days a week is a very long time indeed in politics.