Saturday 25 March 2017

Fears of FF exodus as Ahern bows out

'Goodbye package' is worth €308,000

Fionnan Sheahan and Michael Brennan

FIANNA Fail is braced for a raft of pre-election retirements after Justice Minister Dermot Ahern became the first heavy-hitter to announce the end of his time as a TD.

He revealed yesterday he is to bow out at the next election, but he will still get a goodbye package worth €308,000.

As a retired TD and former minister, Mr Ahern will get annual pension payments of €129,000 -- almost €37,000 more than the basic €92,672 salary he would have got if he was an opposition TD after the next general election.

Mr Ahern was joined on the retirement list by former Health Minister Rory O'Hanlon, who was expected to stand down. In his Cavan-Monaghan constituency, the party is unlikely to select a replacement to try to defend the other two seats it holds.

In a sign that Fianna Fail is braced for an election bloodbath, it is to run significantly fewer candidates. Strategists believe this will help the party avoid losing more seats by splitting the Fianna Fail vote.

'Dragons Den' TV star and businessman Sean Gallagher confirmed to the Irish Independent last night that he was considering seeking the Fianna Fail nomination as Mr Ahern's replacement.

But Mr Ahern's retirement is a blow to Fianna Fail's campaign strategy of running well-known candidates with well-established, strong local support.

Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke, the aunt of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, is pressing for a meeting of TDs and senators to be held early in the new year to discuss the party leadership.

Political observers are now speculating over who could be next to step away from the party.

Former Government Chief Whip Tom Kitt is sticking to his plan to retire from the Dail, which he announced over two years ago.

He and the other two TDs are the only ones to officially declare their intentions so far, but Fianna Fail's selection of candidates will flush out further deputies over whom there are doubts.

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former minister Michael Woods haven't declared their intentions, but neither is thought to intend running.

A battle with motor neurone disease means backbencher Michael Fitzpatrick is also expected to stand down.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and backbenchers Sean Ardagh and Noel Treacy have also fought illness, raising question marks over their plans.

Fianna Fail TD MJ Nolan has vehemently denied he is retiring.

There are also doubts about TDs within Mr Cowen's circle of close allies, with Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe, Junior Minister John Moloney and Junior Minister Michael Finneran all recently forced to deny they will retire.

And there are rumours surrounding several other veteran TDs.

Government Chief Whip John Curran is to meet with Ms O'Rourke this week to discuss her proposal. The general election is still expected to be held in February or March.

In certain cases, Fianna Fail will give up some seats in an effort to avoid losing more seats in a constituency by spreading the vote too thinly.

Where TDs retire, there will be a question mark over whether they are replaced on the ticket to manage the vote tightly.

Mr Ahern last night revealed the personal impact of protests outside his family home as he announced his decision to quit politics. The Justice Minister denied that he was motivated by money or that his decision was related to the bailout.

He said there were a number of reasons for not running again in Louth in the next general election -- among them his diagnosis with rheumatoid arthritis and a promise he had made to his family.

"It wasn't only my medical condition to be honest. That copper-fastened a decision that I had made previously. I have given a commitment to my wife and family that the 2007 election would be my last election, and I confirmed that to the Taoiseach in October 2009," he said.

Mr Ahern will be able to retire with a total package worth €308,000 -- thanks to a legislative move made by former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy.

Mr Ahern (55) is expected to receive a ministerial pension worth almost €75,000 per year, a TD's pension worth around €54,000 per year, as well as a pension lump sum of around €162,000 and a termination lump sum of €17,000. The total package is worth around €308,000 over the next year.

Irish Independent

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