Ahern mulling presidency bid

 

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern today defended his role as leader of the country and admitted he was interested in becoming president of Ireland in the future.

Speaking this morning, Mr Ahern said he accepted his share of the blame for the economic situation the country now found itself in. However, he insisted his government had been reliant on information from the Central Bank regarding the actions of the banks.

"Of course the banking thing was wrong and of course they shouldn't have been using the wholesale interbank rate to get the money that they did," he said.

"I'd love to say I was getting daily reports on who was getting what out of the banks, what guarantees were being given, what due diligence was being done but unfortunately in our system the Central Bank is independent and so far as I got any reports, and even up till April 2008, they were saying, 'listen I think things will be alright, liquidity is improving slightly,' and that was the view."

Mr Ahern said neither he nor his fellow Ministers had foreseen the extent of the problems facing the country which would become apparent after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008.

"The reality is I left this country in a state where we had low national debt, where we had full employment, low taxes and I didn't foresee Lehman's coming down and the rules changing," he said.

Mr Ahern defended his controversial comments made in July 2007 in which he said that those warning about problems with the economy should kill themselves. In making the comment, he said, he was merely trying to encourage people to remain positive about Ireland's future.

"What I was talking about that day was that when a bit of pressure comes on, the thing to do is to talk up your country, not talk down your country. That was the context and I share that sentiment today," he said. "The world recession didn't start in Ireland and we have to lead ourselves out of this."

Mr Ahern defended his successor Brian Cowen, who he said had his full support.

"He's got a tough job and he's doing his very best. We have to depend on the Government trying to dig us out through this rough period. Quite frankly, I'd have loved to have been there to do it because I spent all my life working at it," he said.

Mr Ahern said it was "a crying shame" that plans to build the so-called 'Bertie Bowl' did not proceed and described it as one of the worse mistakes to occur while he was taoiseach.

"I'd have preferred a national stadium. I didn't care where it was. If it had have been in Ballyhaunis or Ballybunion or whether it had been in Abbottstown, I wouldn't have cared," said Mr Ahern.

"I think it was one of the worse mistakes that we ever made. I think there were lots of mistakes, and people will say ‘he didn't mention all the other ones’, but I think that that was a terrible mistake," he added.

On the reaction to Tony Blair's visit to Dublin, Mr Ahern said the former British prime minister had enjoyed his time here despite the fracas outside of Easons that led to four arrests.

"He felt the crowd in Easons and the reception he got here, the fact that he had the privilege of being on The Late Late, he was very happy with all of that," he said in an interview on RTÉ radio's John Murray Show.

While saying he had no immediate interest in running for the presidency, Mr Ahern admitted it was a position he would be attracted to at some point in the future.

"I'm not even thinking about it. We have a great President who has my loyal support," he said.

However, he confirmed that he did "fancy" the role but hadn't been in touch with Taoiseach Brian Cowen about it. "I talked to nobody about it and I'm not likely to do so in the short term," he said.