Bertie Ahern to step down from Dáil

 

Former taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader Bertie Ahern has announced he will not run for Dáil Éireann at the next general election.

In a speech to his party cumann in the Dublin Central constituency last night, Mr Ahern, who was 59 last September, said he had made it clear as far back as 2002 that it was always his plan to step down as a TD before he was 60.

The announcement brings an end to a Dáil career that began in 1977 and saw him serve as taoiseach from 1997 to 2008, winning three general elections in succession.

Asked by reporters if he intended to run for the Presidency, he replied: “I don’t know. I honestly haven’t decided that.” Asked if he was ruling out running, he said: “No, not tonight, everyone would love to be in the Áras. Only one person will end up there.”

Asked if he had any regrets, he said: “If I had seen the banking crisis coming. Nobody advised me, no economist, all those people now writing books saying ‘I told you so’ – none of them.”

On Anglo Irish Bank, he said: “I can honestly say that not once did anyone or any delegation that came in to see me ever say, ‘Watch out for Anglo’ . . . I wish they had have.”

Local party members had no knowledge of his intentions as they assembled at their headquarters in St Luke’s, Drumcondra, for what was expected to be a social occasion.

The meeting was held in private but a script for Mr Ahern’s speech was released. “With an election due in the spring and my next birthday in September being my 60th, I want to confirm tonight that I will not be a candidate at the next general election.”

Referring to the “great economic storm” currently under way in Ireland, he warned against excessive pessimism. “Some gains have been lost, but in truth many remain. I dearly wish there was no crisis. I realise that it would have been better if some things had been done differently, but I will not denigrate the good that has been done,” he added.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said last night that Mr Ahern’s decision “truly marks the end of an era”.

“He is without question the consummate politician of our generation in this country. He is a person of rare ability and extraordinary talent.”

Describing the office of Taoiseach as “the highest and the ultimate civic responsibility”, Mr Ahern said it had been his “great honour” to be entrusted with it for over a decade.

“I am proud of what I have achieved in politics and I am prouder still to have had the privilege to have worked with and for so many fine, patriotic and extraordinary people.

“It is not given to anyone in life who tries and tries again not to sometimes fail. Years of apparently great success then, are apparently tainted by great failures now, but the truth is more complex and in time it will be viewed more dispassionately. The raw emotion of real shock means it is too soon to take stock.”

He said he was proud of the role that he and former British prime minister Tony Blair played in leading the negotiations on the Belfast Agreement “to a successful and a successfully lasting conclusion”.

“Every single day, I thank God that I have lived to see peace fulfilled.”

Paying tribute to his successor, he said: “I especially want to extend my good wishes to our Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, who is a leader of great ability and decency. He has my enduring respect.”

Mr Ahern served as taoiseach from June 26th, 1997, until May 7th, 2008. His resignation was precipitated by the controversy arising out of revelations about his private finances at the Mahon tribunal, which is expected to report early next year.

He was elected the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil in 1994, following the break-up of the Fianna Fáil-Labour coalition headed by Albert Reynolds and Dick Spring.

Mr Ahern will receive an estimated €135,000 as a combined ministerial and TD’s pension. Had he delayed his retirement until after the end of February 2012, his pension would have been significantly less.

Senator Paschal Donohoe, who stood unsuccessfully for Fine Gael in Dublin Central in the 2007 general election and 2009 byelection, said his party was confident of gaining a seat in the constituency.

He said Mr Ahern made a significant contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process, building on the work of his predecessors. “However, his overall legacy to Ireland is very mixed.”