Wednesday 29 March 2017

Ahern's got 'as much chance at Presidency as Reynolds had'

Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor

FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has as much chance of securing the Fianna Fail nomination for the Presidency as his predecessor Albert Reynolds, the man he famously shafted for the same position, a senior Fianna Fail figure said last night.

Mr Ahern has again refused to rule out running for the Aras in October when President Mary McAleese steps down.

But there was little enthusiasm for Mr Ahern's potential candidacy among several Fianna Fail TDs contacted yesterday.

One junior minister privately said it was "very hard" to see him being nominated by the party. He referred to what happened in 1997 when former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was beaten to the party nomination by outsider Mrs McAleese.

"It would be as difficult for Bertie as it was for Albert Reynolds," the minister told the Irish Independent.

Mr Ahern has always denied that he was to blame for Mr Reynolds' defeat. But former minister Mary O'Rourke said last year that he had encouraged members of the Cabinet to vote for Mrs McAleese.

And in his autobiography, Mr Reynolds said he was sure that Mr Ahern's pretence of remaining neutral during the vote "was just that, a pretence".

Mr Ahern would be dogged in any presidential campaign by questions about how the economy went from boom to bust during his stewardship.

He is facing a series of further obstacles if he decides to run for President.

These include the likely publication this year of the Mahon Tribunal report into his acceptance of "dig-out" payments from friends in the 1990s and a Revenue investigation into whether he was tax compliant during this period.

Fianna Fail sources acknowledge that Mr Ahern faces another hurdle if a new Fianna Fail leader is elected after the General Election. He would have to get the backing of this leader, who may wish to create a "new story" for the party in the presidential election and put its past behind it.

However, one Fianna Fail Dublin TD said Mr Ahern could not be ruled out for the Fianna Fail nomination because he was still "pretty popular" among the TDs and senators who would make the final decision.

"He'd still have a fair number of friends. If he set his mind on it, I wouldn't rule him out," he said.

The strongest backing for Mr Ahern's candidacy came from his long-time ally, Fianna Fail Dublin Central TD Cyprian Brady, who said he expected Mr Ahern to make up his mind after the General Election.

"Personally, I think he would be a fantastic President. He would be a great representative for the country internationally and he would have a lot to offer," he said.

Interested

Former Fianna Fail councillor Maurice Ahern said that although he did not know what his brother was thinking, he had said once that he would certainly be interested in the Presidency.

He said Fianna Fail had originally expected to be looking at the Presidency in January but would not do so until the summer because of the imminent election.

"And who knows? If you're not in, you can't be considered. You have to see how the votes go in the General Election, the afters of that; what about the tribunal, there's a whole lot of issues," he said.

Mr Ahern said his brother had worked 14 to 16-hour days as Taoiseach and then found that he couldn't "plan anything" when he went on to the backbenches in May 2008.

"Like no other Taoiseach, he was called to attend in the Dail almost every day because they counted on Bertie for a vote all the time. I think he did his bit for the party since he stood down as Taoiseach," he said.

Community Minister Pat Carey paid tribute to Mr Ahern as a consummate politician who had helped develop consensus politics in this country.

Fianna Fail Junior Minister for Forestry and Fishing Sean Connick said Mr Ahern's achievements in the peace process and in negotiating at EU level had been shrouded by the "fog of recrimination" over the economic crisis.

"You have to take his overall tenure. If you did a list with the positive on the left and the negative on the right, there would be far more positive," he said.

However, opposition politicians in Mr Ahern's constituency delivered a more negative verdict on his career.

Labour TD Joe Costello said he deserved praise for bringing political stability to the North. But he added: "He will also be remembered as one of the authors of the disastrous Fianna Fail policies that created the worst economic crisis in the history of the State and led to the intervention of the IMF and the EU."

Fine Gael Senator Paschal Donohoe said Mr Ahern's legacy was "very mixed".

Mr Ahern did not grant any public interviews during a visit to his local headquarters in St Luke's in Drumcondra, Dublin.

He has said that he has not yet decided on running for the Presidency and when asked if he was ruling it out, he said: "No, not tonight, everyone would love to be in the Aras. Only one person will end up there."

Senator David Norris is the early favourite to succeed Mrs McAleese, who will conclude 14 years in office in October. Fine Gael's potential candidates include MEPs Sean Kelly and Mairead McGuinness.

Former Taoiseach John Bruton is seen as capable of winning the party nomination if he puts his name forward.

Labour is likely to be represented by either sitting TD Michael D Higgins or Barnardos chief executive Fergus Finlay.

Irish Independent

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