Minister says he never wanted to lead Fianna Fáil


MINISTER FOR Justice Dermot Ahern says he does not think Fianna Fáil should change leader ahead of a general election, insisting he never wanted the position.

Mr Ahern, who yesterday announced he would stand down at the next election despite being frequently mentioned as a potential future party leader, said he had great admiration for Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

“We’re better off remaining as we are,” he said.

“I wouldn’t have set out to be leader, to be honest, because I can see what it does to people’s lives and people’s personalities. I saw what Bertie Ahern had to do and what Brian Cowen has to do. I’m genuinely not sure I would have been prepared to sacrifice my family life in that respect.”

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern was wrong to nominate a successor, he said. “It wasn’t the person . . . I just felt that if Charlie Haughey had done that he would’ve been lambasted for being dictatorial.”

He added he did not know who would lead Fianna Fáil in future.

Mr Ahern said his “conscience is clear” about denying speculation the State was seeking a bailout in media appearances prior to the confirmation of the EU-IMF rescue package.

On Sunday, November 14th, he described media reports as “fiction” on RTÉ One’s The Week in Politics programme, echoing the word used in a question by interviewer Seán O’Rourke.

On his way to record the interview, he telephoned Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan and then Mr Cowen to ask them about stories in that day’s newspapers. “There was no question of any bailout or any talk of bailout in any of those conversations I had.”

Mr Ahern said there was no discussion about such matters at Cabinet meetings until the following Tuesday when Mr Lenihan was delegated to open up initial discussions about the possibility of making an application.

“I read stuff in the paper that I was annoyed and miffed and all that. I wasn’t. I accept the factual position that there were no discussions going on.”

However, there was an effort by “faceless bureaucrats in mainly the ECB” who were trying to “bounce” and “bully” Ireland into making a decision.

Mr Ahern has developed a type of rheumatoid arthritis which means he has great difficulty walking distances and has not windsurfed (a long-time hobby) for two years.

He first noticed the symptoms in the summer of last year, when he developed pains in his hands and had difficulty carrying files.

“So I’m on pretty heavy medication ... I’ve been on steroids and painkillers for the last nine months ... If I don’t take them I’m in pain, pretty bad pain.”

He said, however, that this had only “copper-fastened” his decision to leave politics. Back in 2007 he made an agreement with his wife, Maeve, that he would not contest another election. He told Mr Cowen in October 2009 and told him on Sunday morning he was thinking of making the announcement this week.

The announcement by Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams that he would run for election in Mr Ahern’s Louth constituency was not a factor in his decision.

“No, in fact the opposite, it nearly made me reconsider my decision to stand down at the next election but I thought better of it after a week or two.”

While the constituency will become a five-seater, Ceann Comhairle Séamus Kirk of Fianna Fáil will be automatically returned. There is probably another seat for Fianna Fáil, “even on the worst day”, as well as one for Sinn Féin.

“It’d be a massive surprise if Fianna Fail didn’t pick up one seat out of the four.”

He expects Senator James Carroll, based in the south of the constituency, will contest along with a colleague based in the north.

He remains unhappy with coalition colleagues in the Green Party for “destablising the political situation” by announcing they wanted an election in the second half of January. “I’d be dishonest if I didn’t say that I was, like my colleagues, annoyed at what was done Monday week last. We sat with them on the Sunday and not a dicky bird to us.”

The atmosphere at Cabinet is now “workmanlike”. He would like to do “media-ish stuff”, perhaps writing articles about politics for newspapers, as well as voluntary work for the Third World. He said he did not think he would return to his former career as a solicitor.