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Sunday 17 August 2003

Bertie crushed under the thumbs of Miriam, Georgina and Cecelia

WELL, I invested my €3.13 in Hello! and my heart went out to Bertie. There he sat beside Miriam, wearing that "When-can-I-geddouta-here?" expression not long ago seen in an uneasy photo with Celia. Slightly cheerier as he walked Georgina up the aisle, the strained look was back for the Ahern family shots. 

Bertie loves his daughters dearly, but he's no mug and what he knew in every fibre of his highly political being was that he looked like a prat. His status as leader of a small but famous country had been used to exact an extra zero from a tacky magazine that would have given only a couple of pages to Nicky Byrne marrying Ms Anybody. For days he'd been holed up in a fancy French prison and banned from showing himself to cameramen from his own country whom he normally courted passionately. He was kitted out with a purple tie to match the uniforms of the youths known as the 'bestest' men. And back home people were saying: "That's a disgrace. Bertie should have made them have the wedding at home." 

I've been defending him against that criticism for weeks. Listen, uncharitable readers, the truth is that our Taoiseach is pussy-whipped. 

Miriam is one tough broad, Celia another, and Georgina and Cecelia know what they want and they get it. Ever since he took up with Celia, Bertie's been trying to placate the wife and daughters. And every time he publicly did so, Celia let him have it. Celia got Bertie to acknowledge her before the world as his consort, but Miriam, Georgina and Cecelia stopped him marrying her. It would have been civilised and generous of Georgina to invite to her wedding the woman who had been her father's companion for many years, but the female Aherns were implacable. Their strategy of no compromise worked: in the end, Bertie's weakness vis-a-vis the wife and daughters drove Celia away. 

Tell his daughter to marry in a little old Irish chateau? I doubt if Bertie even mentioned the possibility. Georgina is not stupid. She must have known perfectly well that her decision to hold the wedding abroad would go down badly with Sean Public. But she wanted a fairytale ceremony in France and to hell with the collateral damage. Being no Charlie Haughey, Bertie couldn't finance the kind of wedding Georgina wanted, so he had to put up with being a pawn in the negotiations with the foreign paymasters, hunker in the bunker, put on the good suit and the compulsory purple tie and try to grin and bear it. 

Another man might have been cross at being stitched up by his nearest and dearest, but not Bertie. By all accounts, his wedding speech was apologetic, nay cringing, about his deficiencies as a husband and father. There was no sign of the ward boss, the deal-maker, the rubber-of-shoulders with the most powerful people in the world - just a daddy who knows his little girls will never really forgive him for leaving mammy, but goes on pathetically grovelling anyway. 

Bertie's weakness with women is not unique in high political circles. Bill Clinton has always been terrified of Hillary. Did her ban on smoking in the White House not cause him to put his beloved cigars to very strange uses? Cherie is notoriously the dominant partner in the Blair household and recently she triumphed in a civil war in Number 10 Downing Street. 

Blair's bestest friend and most important colleague, Alastair Campbell, tried to control Cherie by installing his partner, Fiona Millar, as her minder in 1997. When Cherie's daffy New-Agey confidante, Carole Caplin, came on the payroll and started stuffing her employer into pixie boots, Campbell warned against her. When Carole's boyfriend - a conman well known to cops on two continents - landed Cherie in a scandal by conducting a property deal for her, Campbell played merry hell. 

When Cherie insisted on sticking with her pal, Campbell briefed against her and Fiona announced her resignation. What did Cherie do? She appeared in Maire Claire sitting on a bed with Carole who was helping her do her make up, while Carole appeared in Hello! chatting about their relationship. Like Bertie, instead of bawling out his wife, Tony looks strained and embarrassed and tells everyone she's perfect. We'd better get used to this. The little-woman-in-the-background is so yesterday. 

Hillary wants to be president. Not content with being a highly successful lawyer, Cherie is intent on being a style icon (£7,000! that's what the suit she wore to Washington last month cost). Miriam has reinvented herself as a socialite. Celia's on a press offensive. And the wedding of his daughter Georgina has now dealt a massive PR blow to her loving father's faltering career. How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a financially independent child.

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards