Dermot Ahern to step down as TD


Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said this morning he will not contest his Dáil seat in Co Louth at the next general election for health reasons.

In a statement released this morning, the Fianna Fáil Minister said in the last 18 months he has been "diagnosed with a painful medical condition necessitating heavy medication” and has been advised to change the pace of his life.

“There is never a good time to make a decision like this. I do so in the knowledge that there are many people in the party who will now be able to take up the battle and to represent Fianna Fáil in the best traditions of the party in this constituency," he said.

Former ceann comhairle Rory O'Hanlon also announced his decision to step down this morning. Dr O'Hanlon (76) has served as a Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan since 1977.

Their decisions bring the number of sitting TDs not contesting the next election to 15.

Mr Ahern, who is a solicitor by profession, has served as a public representative since 1979. He was first elected to Dáil Éireann in 1987 and retained his seat ever since.

During his career he has held the justice, foreign affairs, communications, social and family affairs portfolios and has served as government chief whip.

"I believe in the upcoming generation; well educated, energetic and enthusiastic. I believe they deserve the opportunity to contribute," he said in his statement. “As a nation we face major challenges. I firmly believe in the spirit and resilience of our people. I believe in our country.”

Mr Ahern later revealed he has been suffering from rheumatoid arthritis and made the decision to step down following the 2007 election. He said he informed the Taoiseach of his intention in October last year. He confirmed it this weekend and before informing his Cabinet colleagues this morning.

A year after his retirement from politics, he will then be entitled to a combined annual ministerial and TD’s
pension of €128,300, more than he would earn if he remained a TD.

He will be paid a tax-free pension lump sum to which all public servants are entitled upon retirement, equalling one a half times salary. In Mr Ahern’s case that will amount to almost €160,000.

The other TDs in the Louth constituency at present are Mr Ahern’s party colleague, Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk; Sinn Féin's Arthur Morgan; and Fine Gael’s Fergus O’Dowd.

Mr Morgan recently announced plans to step down at the next election, with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams set to contest the seat in his place.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Pat Kenny, he said he has been advised to reduce the pace of his life.

"I canvassed in Donegal and I physically was not able to move after one days canvassing because of the pain. That is something I am going to have to live with but I’m told if I am to have any chance of that dissipating obviously my pace of life has to change somewhat.”

Mr Ahern said his decision had nothing to do with Mr Adams contesting the Louth constituency in the next election. “I’ve been in politics for 24 years, I’ve fought some very tough battles, I have no fear of Gerry Adams or no-one else.”

He said while he felt Mr Adams will get elected there would be a “significant ABA (anyone but Adams)” vote in the area and that the idea of “parachuting someone in from outside the constituency in this day and age is an abomination”.

Mr Ahern said he would be extremely interested in doing some work in or associated with the third world in the future.

Although the Louth constituency is due to become a five-seater in the next election, the Ceann Comhairle is automatically returned.

In a statement this morning, Mr Adams said he wished the Minister well in his retirement. “His colleagues in Government should now join him and a general election should be held immediately.”

Wishing the Minister and his family “all the very best today and for the future” Taoiseach Brian Cowen said Mr Ahern has had a “distinguished career” during which he has been both “innovative” and “reforming”.

Mr Cowen said: “He is one of the most able, experienced and hard-working politicians of his generation.”

“Dermot has been a reforming minister who has carried out his duties with great ability and commitment to the public good. He has been an innovative Minister for Justice with many achievements including the recent ground-breaking anti-gangland legislation,” he added.