Good-bye Bertie

So the on-going scandal of dodgy campaign financing in Ireland has come to an end that could have been predicted ages ago. How corrupt was Mr. Ahern, really? And if he was corrupt, how corrupt was he compared to other politicians whose career started at the same time or before as Mr. Ahern's career?

I have the handicap and advantage of not actually being from Ireland, so I can't continue either of those conversations except as a listener -- and I'd love to hear some pithy, non-polarized opinions from people who know better than I on either of them. I feel happy for Bertie that he can still have his little jaunt to the States before he goes. I think I have a small notion of how important that is for him and for his country. I'm even gladder that the Good Friday accords don't look like collapsing just because one of the leaders' hands appear unclean.

But in listening to this story unwind, I couldn't help wondering if he's no more than a victim of surviving from one era of accountability standards into the next? I'm not denying that Bertie was corrupt. The details from the Mahon Tribunal has made this much clear: corruption happened. And worse, he was consistently economical with the truth and forgot too many of the details, whether inadvertently or not (the old "Incompetent or Crooked?" question rears its head).

My mixed feelings on the outcome lead me to wonder if, when financial/political accountability measures become more concrete, more rigorous, if the people would be better served (with the longevity of their most senior, most experienced leaders) if such laws included riders of amnesty and/or some kind of owning-up commissions -- with penalties like this only exacted for those who don't make a clean breast of the past. I have little faith that the laws are capable of keeping the politicians and their funds honest -- but I am sure that without the freedom to own-up with amnesty I feel they are likely to be even less effective. Further, I fear that the more stringent the measures are, the more creative corrupt politicians and power-purchasers will get in the buying and selling of influence.

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