Friday, May 11, 2007


To Fianna Fail's headquarters near the Grand Canal at 9am this morning. And surprise, surprise. Bertie Ahern made his first appearance at a press briefing. What's more. He took charge of it.

The optics of that are unmistakable. FF now believe they have put BertieGate behind them, feel emboldened enough to allow their leader back to marshall and front their campaign.

The only loose thread of course is Bertie Ahern's statement. FF have been very tight about its timing. The reason for that is obvious. It's Ahern himself who will decide when and how he will make it. I suspect that the party's thinking is going along the following lines: When he makes it, the media will run it with it for at least 24 hours. But the PDs - unless there is another outbreak of spontaneous combustion - will in all likelihood accept it, albeit with a little wrist slapping. The other opposition parties won't touch it because they will be too scared that they'll be swamped by a tsunami of sympathy for the Taoiseach. And the butterflyish media? Will it persist stubbornly to hound him? Or will it move on to other things?

And in that regard, Bertie Ahern is hoping that the first peace dividend of political settlement in the North will be his re-election. Like the North this week, Bertie Ahern's appearance at the Battle of the Boyne site with Ian Paisley will provide powerful imagery and publicity. And it will be more of the same, when he makes the trip to Westminster on Tuesday morning to become the first Taoiseach - and only the 32nd world leader - to address the joint houses of parliament.

There's a tasty piece of irony there. Ahern coat-tailed onto the Blair phenomenon in 1997 when first getting elected. And he may be also able to use the mutual self-congratulation surrounding the Blair departure as a leg-up.

He was on top of his game an decisive this morning. Of course, his party is still struggling - 36% in the polls will put see them slink into the opposition benches for five years. But you get a sense that FF is going to start its big push this weekend - and the empire is just about to strike back.

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