Combative reformer who relished fighting his corner
Published 01/12/2010 | 05:00
DERMOT Ahern established himself as a reforming and combative minister during his two years holding the Justice portfolio.
But his perceived abrasive manner landed him in confrontations with a range of opponents. In the Dail, he relished fighting his corner with successive opposition spokesmen on justice and he regularly used his grasp of his extensive brief to score political points while defending the many agencies and organisations that came within the ambit of his department.
In past decades, it was considered politically unwise to appoint a Dail deputy from a Border constituency to this security sensitive post but it all changed with the arrival of the peace process.
Ironically, the recent growth in dissident republican groups has meant that his political heartland in Co Louth is also a base for some of the key figures in the main renegade terrorist gangs.
Their proximity has not stopped Mr Ahern from being a vocal critic of terrorism.
Mr Ahern has continued the policy of his predecessors in forging closer bonds with the PSNI and the Stormont administration to tackle the common enemy of terrorism and during the autumn also advanced relationships with the Scottish government in combating horrific crimes such as human trafficking.
Despite the financial cutbacks in all government departments, he ringfenced a €20m fund for Operation Anvil, the garda's nationwide assault on crime, and managed to increase it last year when other areas were being badly hit.
His garda recruitment policy also pushed the strength of the force to a record 14,500 and, although this is due to be slashed to 13,000 by 2014, it will still remain at 2006 levels.
Mr Ahern has been less successful in the prison area where the difficulties in securing a new site to replace the Mountjoy prison campus and delays over contracts have resulted in a massive delay in getting the Thornton project off the ground.
The shortage of cell space was created by his own initiatives. Mr Ahern was also the first justice minister in the EU to shut down the drug "head shops" and had legislation in the pipeline to make radical changes in "white collar" criminal law.