Former Irish Premier Bertie Ahern Retires Amid Economic Devastation

12/31/2010 06:18 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Like a B-29 pilot gazing down at the smoking ruins of Hiroshima, Bertie Ahern, with grim satisfaction, says "my work here is done," and heads for home.

Bertie has had a major impact on this small island, but his war is over. On his flight back to the safety of speaking tours, book royalties, and retirement with a generous pension, what does he think of his handiwork?

"I am proud" he says, "of what I have achieved in politics." His retirement from politics comes in the very month Ireland was taken over by the IMF and the EU, an event his 11 year premiership led to.

"Years of apparently great success then" says Bertie, "are apparently tainted by great failures now. But the truth is more complex and in time it will be viewed more dispassionately. The raw emotion of real shock means it is too soon to take stock."

However, leading Irish economist Colm McCarthy says that the EU-IMF bailout is, very directly, Bertie's legacy: "That [the bailout] should have happened to Ireland, after a decade of self-congratulation when a genuine base of economic achievement was there to be built upon, is the real legacy of the Ahern era." He also points out that economic reality was not faced until Ahern "departed the scene".

But Bertie says, "If there must be recognition of where we went wrong, there has to be clarity about what we got right." In short, let's not bicker and moan about the current economic blahdey blah. Let's talk about peace in Northern Ireland!

Ahern continues, "The cause of peace on this island is the single cause that more than any other I devoted my time, my capacity and my political commitment to. For much of my adult life, violence in Northern Ireland defined global perceptions of the island of Ireland.

"Peace is our generation's greatest achievement. Continuing conflict would have been our greatest failure. And not to have had the courage to risk failure again and again would have been cowardice. I have stood successfully in 12 elections. Now at the end of this long journey of learning and of leading I want to thank those who helped me along the way and whose friendship means more to me than these words can say.

"Now it is time to stand aside, to pass on the baton and allow others to continue the race."

Bertie's retirement remarks only just stop short of his predecessor Charlie Haughey's retirement speech in which he used the words of Shakespeare's Othello:

"I have done the state some service, and they know't."

In Bertie's case, we know't, alright: The 400,000 people on the dole; the young families emigrating, the graduates who can't find work, the children facing education cuts, the fathers leaving their families to work in Dubai this Christmas, bricklayers with no hope of ever finding work again, those whose welfare is being taxed, the sick in our decimated hospitals and all who mourn for the loss of our proud nation's sovereignty.

We all know't: We all know the sort of service that Bertie has provided our state.

But Bertie says, "And the next generation will build on our success and they will learn from our mistakes."

Indeed, Bertie, it has been educational.

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