Friday 23 June 2017

'I am very proud of what I have achieved in politics'

The following is an edited version of Bertie Ahern's speech to the members of his O'Donovan Rossa Cumann in Drumcondra last night.

"It is 40 years ago, this week, since I joined Fianna Fail.

At the beginning of January 1971, I attended my first meeting of this cumann.

I did not know it then, but that was one of the defining moments of my life.

Through the long years and the tumultuous events since, the O'Donovan Rossa Cumann has been my political home.

It remains my political home tonight.

Today it is hard, and for some it seems impossible, to keep faith with Ireland's tomorrow. I know and I understand that now we are in the eye of a great economic storm. People's confidence has been knocked back.

But if these are difficult days, we can have a genuine confidence for the future based on the real, the sustainable and the lasting gains which Ireland has made. Yes some gains have been lost, but in truth many remain.

Ireland is not 'banjaxed'. Ireland is not 'an economic corpse'. Ireland is a country of real achievement and, yes, of real and pressing problems. The truth is that our country will recover. We will regain our stride and we will succeed in holding on to many of the gains we have made together.

Success

And the next generation will build on our success and they will learn from our mistakes.

Now and out of necessity, we are forced to step backwards after years of unprecedented progress. But the race is not over, the contest is not lost, the future is still ours to win.

Ireland is fighting back. I dearly wish there was no crisis. I realise that it would have been better if some things had been done differently. But I will not denigrate the good that has been done, or belittle the effort it took to achieve it.

It was always my plan, and a plan I made clear as long ago as 2002, that I would step down from Dail Eireann before I was 60. This evening I have come here, to this meeting of the O'Donovan Rossa Cumann, to say that remains my unalterable position.

With an election due in the spring and my next birthday in September being my 60th, I want to confirm tonight that I will not be a candidate at the next general election.

To follow in the footsteps of DeValera, and of Lemass has been the greatest privilege of my life.

I am proud of what I have achieved in politics.

Years of apparently great success then are apparently tainted by great failures now. But the truth is more complex and in time it will be viewed more dispassionately.

The raw emotion of real shock means it is too soon to take stock.

But when that stock is taken, when the 11 years I had the honour to be Taoiseach are more coldly considered, the many positives will be put into the balance with the negatives. The perspective of what lasted and what was washed away will be clearer.

But if there must be recognition of where we went wrong, there has to be clarity about what we got right.

The cause of peace on this island is the single cause that more than any other I devoted my time, my capacity and my political commitment to.

For much of my adult life, violence in Northern Ireland defined global perceptions of the island of Ireland. That dark cloud overshadowed not only what the wider world saw in us, but it deeply darkened how we saw ourselves.

Peace is our generation's greatest achievement. Continuing conflict would have been our greatest failure. And not to have had the courage to risk failure again and again would have been cowardice.

I have stood successfully in 12 elections. Now at the end of this long journey of learning and of leading I want to thank those who helped me along the way and whose friendship means more to me than these words can say.

Now it is time to stand aside, to pass on the baton and allow others to continue the race.

A new generation will define that potential. It is with great faith in our shared future, with true hope and with no regret that I have come to my decision tonight.

I am deeply privileged to have had this life in elected politics and now at the end and from the bottom of my heart, I say thank you.

Go raibh maith agaibh go leir."

Irish Independent

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