I'm one of the few socialists left, says Taoiseach

 

The Taoiseach says he is "one of the few socialists left in Irish politics" and he intends to devote himself now to helping the deprived in Irish society.

In a revealing interview in this morning's Irish Times, to mark the 10th anniversary next week of his election as Fianna Fáil leader, Mr Ahern says that despite Ireland's economic successes in recent years, there are still many who have not made gains.

At one school in his own constituency, he says: "When we started doing breakfasts in the school, the percentage of people coming with their kids went dramatically up, and that was a bit of an eye opener for me." He is also concerned about the number of Travellers still living on the roadside.

Mr Ahern has no ambition for personal wealth. He has had opportunities to become wealthier but turned them down. "If I can go on my annual holidays to Kerry, get a few days sometimes, if I can get now and again to Old Trafford, if I have enough money for a few pints and if I can look after Miriam and the kids, I don't care a damn. I couldn't care. And tomorrow if I hadn't got very much it wouldn't matter. I'm well paid so I can't moan."

Mr Ahern strongly believes in public access to State-owned facilities, and his socialist outlook has driven his commitment to improving them.

"People mightn't believe this but I have a very socialist view on life. I have it in my mind that I own the Phoenix Park, and I own the Botanic Gardens, I own the Zoo. Because the State participates in these things I am free to go in there whenever the opening hours are. What is the best form of equality? It is the fact that the richest family in this area can go on a Sunday afternoon to the Bots, and the poorest family can too."

Political opponents will see his interview in this morning's Irish Times as part of a careful repositioning of Fianna Fáil, in response to its assessment that the public considers the Government too right-wing and uncaring. But Mr Ahern insists the party's "heart and soul" is with helping the less well off.

On the North, Mr Ahern says he has spent this year studying the Rev Ian Paisley and his tactics. And after September 11th he has also sought a greater understanding of the Muslim world and the Koran.