Former Irish PM Ahern quits politics

Bertie Ahern was Ireland`s prime minister from June 1997 until May 2008.

Updated: Dec 31, 2010, 09:53 AM IST

Dublin: Former Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern announced on Thursday that he was quitting politics after 33 years in Parliament, including nearly 11 as premier.

Ahern told a governing Fianna Fail party branch meeting that he would not be contesting his Dublin Central seat at the forthcoming general election.

"Now it is time to stand aside, to pass on the baton and allow others to continue the race," the 59-year-old said.

"The next generation will build on our success and they will learn from our mistakes. It is not just that life will go on; I believe that life will get better."

Ahern was Ireland`s prime minister, or taoiseach, from June 1997 until May 2008 and will largely be remembered for his part in securing the Northern Irish peace accords and the republic`s economic boom.

Prime Minister Brian Cowen, who served as finance minister under Ahern, described him as "without question the consummate politician of our generation in this country".

Ahern had made an "outstanding contribution to Irish public life" and would always be associated with the peace process that led to the ending of three decades of violence in Northern Ireland.

He was the joint architect, with former British prime minister Tony Blair, of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that led to a devolved cross-community, power-sharing administration being set up in Belfast.

Ahern said that after being elected to Parliament on 10 successive occasions, he was "now at the end of his long journey of learning and of leading".

"I am proud of what I have achieved in politics and I am prouder still to have had the privilege to have worked with and for so many fine, patriotic and extraordinary people," he said.

Fianna Fail leader Cowen said that Ahern was an "electoral phenomenon" as the first Irish leader to win three successive general elections since prime minister Eamon de Valera in the 1940s.

Cowen has said an early election will be called soon in the New Year following the international bailout of Ireland`s stricken economy, with Fianna Fail plunging in the polls.

Ahern entered Parliament in 1977 aged 26 and became the youngest-ever leader of Fianna Fail in 1994, aged 43.

As head of three coalition governments Ahern initially oversaw an unprecedented export-led economic boom, earning Ireland the "Celtic Tiger" moniker.

But the boom turned to bust as Ireland was hammered by the international financial crisis and the bursting of a property bubble that had been fuelled by low interest rates and reckless lending.

Earlier this month, Ireland`s Parliament voted in favour of an EUR 85 billion (USD 113 billion) bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Ahern, who was known as the "Teflon Taoiseach" for his ability to survive scandals which might topple a less able politician, resigned amid allegations about his personal finances.

"Never in all the time I served in public life have I ever put my personal interests ahead of the public good," he said at the time.

Ahern is separated but not divorced from his wife Miriam and has two daughters: Georgina is married to Nicky Byrne of Irish pop group Westlife; the other is novelist Cecelia Ahern.

Bureau Report