The 'Teflon Taoiseach' quits amid inquiry into corruption
HE WAS dubbed the "Teflon Taoiseach". But Bertie Ahern – the most successful Irish politician for more than half a century and the man synonymous with the Celtic Tiger economy and the peace process in Northern Ireland – has finally come unstuck.
The Irish prime minister, whose "man of the people" image extended to enjoying a pint at his local pub in Dublin most evenings, was forced to resign yesterday as a deepening scandal over his private finances threatened to split his coalition government.
The emotional announcement of his departure, on the steps of the Government Buildings in Dublin, had been carefully planned. On Monday, close family friends were sworn to secrecy while Mr Ahern began drafting his resignation speech.
Yesterday, the Taoiseach arrived at his office and briefed colleagues. At 9:22am, an e-mail alerted the media to a press conference scheduled to begin at 10am, but it was not until 10:46am that Mr Ahern came down the steps to announce the end of his political career, flanked by sombre-looking colleagues.
Mr Ahern, who worked closely with Tony Blair, his former British counterpart, for almost a decade to help create the Northern Ireland peace process, will formally step down on 6 May, after making a historic address to both houses of the US Congress.
Controversy over Mr Ahern's private finances has dogged him for a number of years after it emerged he had received personal cash donations, including a cheque for 8,000 from a group of businessmen, while finance minister. He earned the nickname the "Teflon Taoiseach" after being elected for a third time last May.
However, Mr Ahern came under fresh scrutiny with the launch of a judicial inquiry investigating planning corruption in Dublin, which last month uncovered a previously unknown payment of 15,000 into his bank account.
Mr Ahern said: "I have never received a corrupt payment and I've never done anything to dishonour any office I've ever held. I know that some people will feel that some aspects of my finances are unusual. I truly regret if this has caused any confusion or worry in people's minds."
He said the confusion had arisen because of decisions he had taken during a time of great personal change – a reference to his separation from wife, Miriam. He added: "I know in my heart of hearts that I have done no wrong.
"I will not allow issues relating to my own person to dominate the body politic, as this would be contrary to the long-term interests of the Irish people.
"I want everyone to understand one truth above all – never in all the time I served in public life have I put my personal interests ahead of the public good."
Mr Ahern was widely praised for his role in developing the Celtic Tiger economic boom in Ireland and became only the second Taoiseach after amon de Valera to be re-elected three times. He also won international acclaim for his role in the Northern Ireland peace process and in securing the historic Good Friday Agreement peace deal in 1998.
Last night, Mr Blair paid tribute to Mr Ahern for his role in the peace process. He said: "Bertie Ahern was a great Taoiseach, a leader for whom I had the greatest respect, admiration and friendship.
"He will be remembered for his crucial role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland, for transforming relations between Britain and the Irish Republic and for presiding over a sustained period of economic and social advance in Ireland."
Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said of Mr Ahern: "His political career is one of great achievement.
"He was a key player in bringing about the Good Friday Agreement, and I am in no doubt his significant contribution to the peace efforts – and devolution – will be a fitting and lasting legacy for his 30 years in politics.
"He will always be welcome as a steady friend of Scotland."
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 6 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: South west