The return of former taoiseach Bertie Ahern to the Fianna Fáil fold is appropriate given the passage of time and the forthcoming 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, Tánaiste Micheál Martin has said.
Mr Ahern has re-joined his local party organisation in Dublin Central, just over a decade after he quit Fianna Fáil in the wake of the findings of the Mahon tribunal. The move will ramp-up speculation that he will seek to run for the presidency in 2025.
Mr Martin said: “Nothing like that has been discussed. That is just speculation. He just wanted to re-join his local cumann and it is as basic as that.”
Asked about presidential ambitions at an event in October, Mr Ahern replied: “When is that election anyway? 2025, Jesus, that’s a long way away. Number one, I have to stay alive and then ask me again.”
Bertie Ahern’s return is par for the course for Fianna Fáil, a party that frequently rejects history
[ Miriam Lord: Yes indeed, De Bert is back. What could possibly go wrong? ]
Speaking in Washington, Mr Martin said his predecessor as Fianna Fáil leader made “an outstanding contribution to peace on the island of Ireland” and he said Mr Ahern “continues to work on that agenda”.
He added: “I believe significant time has passed and I just think, in the context of that achievement, I would welcome his membership.”
Mr Martin had proposed Mr Ahern’s expulsion in the wake of the Mahon tribunal findings in 2012 but Mr Ahern ultimately quit the party himself.
The Mahon tribunal rejected Mr Ahern’s evidence in relation to his personal finances as mostly “untrue” and found that, contrary to his sworn evidence, there were no dig-outs in 1993 and 1994.
Mr Ahern has disputed the tribunal’s findings. He responded to the report in 2012 saying: “I have never accepted a bribe or a corrupt payment.”
[ Bertie Ahern: Fianna Fáil TDs ‘delighted’ at return of former taoiseach to the party ]
Laois Offaly TD Barry Cowen said on Wednesday he was “delighted” to see Mr Ahern rejoining the party. He said Mr Ahern’s “vast experience and knowledge will be an inspiration to other members in Dublin Central and beyond.”
He added: “He has always been available to assist members and other public reps.
“His keen interest in our country’s welfare has extended to also offering advice and assistance over the years to Government representative on matters especially relating to the Peace Process.
“It is especially welcome that he will partake in many upcoming 25th anniversary Good Friday Commemorative events as a member of our party, considering the leading role he played in ensuring its success.”
Asked if Mr Ahern should be Fianna Fáil’s presidential candidate he replied: “That’s another days work ... for the moment am just glad he’s rejoined as an ordinary member.”
Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that, given the outcome of the tribunal, he finds it “outrageous” that Fianna Fáil would admit Mr Ahern back into the party amid the current debate on ethics in public life and strengthening the powers of the Standards in Public Office Commission (Sipo).
[ Is the time right for Fianna Fáil to invite Bertie Ahern to rejoin the party? ]
Mr Ahern will appear alongside Dublin Bay South TD Jim O’Callaghan at an event in his constituency to mark the Belfast Agreement this evening.
Mr O’Callaghan said: “As Fianna Fáil commemorates 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement, it is important and appropriate that Bertie Ahern, one of the driving forces behind that agreement, rejoins the party.”
Dublin South-West Fianna Fáil TD John Lahart said: “We don’t live in a ‘cancel culture’; It’s clear that Bertie Ahern has something unique and valuable to contribute on the north.”
Senator Mary Fitzpatrick – a former running mate of Mr Ahern’s in the Dublin Central constituency – declined to comment on his return to Fianna Fáil. Her 2007 general election chances were dealt a blow when Mr Ahern’s political machine issued an instruction to constituents to transfer votes to Cyprian Brady.