moment. There was no car and driver crawling behind Eamon Ryan or John Gormley carrying their suits and their papers as they negotiated the horrendous traffic and the even more horrendous weather. This wasn’t just a bit of show for the cameras. This was a real demonstration of intent and purpose. This may come as a shock but they really mean what they say.
But surprise, surprise, it wasn’t the biggest such demonstration or direct action yesterday. The Greens were outflanked on that score by Fianna Fáil. Decisively so. And the identity of the person who broke from the comfort zone of the peloton? Yes, none other than the man in the yellow jersey, the Lance Armstrong of Irish politics.
Part of the package that has made Bertie Ahern so phenomenally successful is that he is so guarded, so deliberately evasive and opaque with his language, that you’re never sure of how he’s going to act until he’s acted. And so adept is he at throwing the anorak of deception over every pronouncement that sometimes, you are not even sure of how he’s acted even after he’s acted.
His interview with Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ’s News at One yesterday was remarkable. If you ever pick up a gossip or celebrity magazine you are always promised that such and such a personality is giving their most revealing interview ever. And then you read it and you discover that it’s the most revealing interview since the most revealing interview they gave last month. We have that before with the Taoiseach too. He can talk an awful lot in interviews, yet say very little.
But yesterday was very different. O’Rourke is one of the best interrogative ministers in the business. But in truth there was no probing in it yesterday. A "chancing your arm" type question about the possibility of Brian Cowen succeeding Ahern opened up the floodgates.
And yes folks, this was Bertie Ahern giving his most revealing interview ever.
"I could give you a lot of political answers about this one, but I’m not going to go down that road," he said.
He described Brian Cowen as a great friend for 20 years, praised his brilliant mind and his experience.
"He’s a hugely, hugely experienced politician, and I think, from my point of view — and it’s obviously the party (which) will ultimately decide — from my point of view, he is the obvious successor to me in five years’ time or whenever."
Ahern was as relaxed and at ease with himself yesterday than at any time in the past decade. That was deeply unsurprising. He had lifted the political equivalent of Sam for a third time in a row, placing him is now firmly second only in the Fianna Fáil pantheon to Eamon de Valera., the man who founded and personified the party during its first three decades of existence.
His surprisingly direct blessing of Cowen as the “anointed” one was telling. O’Rourke compared it to Dev and Lemass. In the modern context, it is Blair and Brown, although without the personal tension, distrust and antipathy though, the relationship between the two leading figures in FF isn’t always as silkily smooth as Ahern portrayed it today).
At the same time the naming of his successor by Ahern was a move that took everybody by surprise. His strategy over the past five years has been to promote all the obvious candidates in the succession race to senior positions — Micheál Martin; Dermot Ahern, Mary Hanafin and now possibly Brian Lenihan. And though they talk themselves down, at least three of the other possibles harbour fierce and burning ambitions to be leader.
But in the past year, Cowen has copper fastened his position as the runaway front-runner. He has all the positions, in charge of the key finance ministry, deputy head anorak and now Tánaiste. At moments of crisis for the party Fianna Fáil — and most of them have revolved around Bertie Ahern in the past 12 months — he is the guy who has grasped the nettle by the stem.
Ahern’s TV-debate performance was crucial during the election campaign. But no more important than the formidable and dashing performances given by Cowen.
As with Across the water, Gordon Brown, has gradually taken on more of the prime ministerial duties. Here, we are also seeing a slow accession beginning to gather pace here. Cowen not Ahern was the Fianna Fáiler who spoke when the parliamentary party gathered on the plinth on Wednesday. Within two years, three at the most, the handover will take place. There is no way that Bertie Ahern will remain until he is 60 and he knows that as much as anybody.
Does Cowen want it? Of course, he does. He is at the heart of Fianna Fáil — he is the heart of Fianna Fáil. The Greens also have a leadership issue on their hands, chose their leader by a unique process called a preferendum. — they don’t vote but pick the chosen one by consensus.
It seems that Fianna Fáil will learn from them and choose a new leader by acclamation rather than by vote. And like his new Green ministerial colleagues he’s already pedalling away furiously.