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Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister, quits over tax affairs

The Times: Resignation of Irish PM Bertie Ahern

(Niall Carson/PA)
Bertie Ahern announcing his resignation today flanked by Cabinet members

Times Online: Bertie Ahern, Irish Prime Minister, quits over tax affairs

April 2, 2008
Philippe Naughton, and David Sharrock in Dublin

Bertie Ahern, Ireland’s long-serving Taoiseach, abruptly announced his resignation today amid continuing controversy over his personal financial affairs.

Mr Ahern will leave office on May 6 after almost 11 years in power – although with four years left of his third term in office.

The Irish premier made the announcement at a press conference in Dublin on the steps of the Dail, where he had been expected to come under fire from the Opposition over the latest allegations against him.

Flanked by senior colleagues, some of them clearly emotional, the Fianna Fail leader denied any wrongdoing but said that the row was diverting attention from his job of governing the country. “I know in my heart of hearts that I have done no wrong,” he said.

Mr Ahern was the first Irish leader since Eamon De Valera to have been re-elected three times. He said his resignation was the result of a constant barrage of allegations about his personal finances.

“The decision I am announcing today, like all other decisions I have taken in a lifetime in politics, is solely motivated by what is best for the people,” he said. “I have been reflecting upon pursuing this course of action for some time. This is solely a personal decision.”

Mr Ahern – a sports fan who still drinks at a local pub in his central Dublin constituency – entered parliament in 1977 aged 26 and became the youngest-ever leader of Fianna Fail in 1994, aged 43.

One of his mentors was the disgraced late prime minister Charles Haughey, who took millions from businessmen but called Mr Ahern the “most cunning, the most ruthless, the most devious of them all.”

As Taoiseach he has presided over an economic boom, but he has also been at the centre of a long-running probe into payments he allegedly received from a property developer between 1989 and 1992.

Mr Ahern had been expected to come under pressure to day to explain a glaring contradiction in evidence he gave to the Mahon Tribunal in February when he claimed that he had never dealt in sterling.

His former secretary admitted to the Tribunal last week that she lodged more than £15,000 into accounts held by him and his two daughters in 1994.

But the man known as the “Teflon Taoiseach” was adamant today that he had nothing to fear from a continuing probe into his finances by a tribunal into planning-related corruption.

He said: “I want everyone to understand one truth above all else: Never in all the time I served in public life have I ever put my personal interests ahead of the public good.

“I have provided more details about my personal finances than any person in public life that’s ever held office. And while I would be the first to admit that I made mistakes in my life and my career, one mistake I’ve never made was to enrich myself by misusing the trust of the people.

“I have never received a corrupt payment and I’ve never done anything to dishonour any office that I’ve ever held.”

Mr Ahern said it was an honour to have been Ireland’s second longest-serving Taoiseach and party leader. “I have been humbled to be entrusted for over a decade with the great responsibility of leading our nation,” he said.

“The Irish people are innately decent and I’ve been privileged to serve them and to enjoy tremendous support. I am proud to be the first Taoiseach since 1944 to be elected on three successive occasions.”

At the age of 56, Mr Ahern may well be hoping to continue some kind of political career, as long as he can extricate himself from the taint of alleged corruption.

He has even been mentioned as a possible candidate for the future presidency of the European Union, not just for his role in the peace process but for the economic miracle under which Ireland’s per capita income is second only to that of Luxembourg among EU member states.

Tony Blair, who has himself been seen as a candidate for Europe’s top job, paid tribute once again today to the Irish leader, for his role in Northern Ireland, for his economic success and for “transforming relations between Britain and the Irish Republic”.

“He was also a key figure in Europe,” Mr Blair added. “He will have, deservedly, a central place in his nation’s political history and much more widely. A remarkable man with a remarkable record of achievement.”

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article3666383.ece

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