Bertie bails out
Ahern refuses to apologise for downturn as he retires on €151,000-a-year pension
FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern last night dramatically announced his retirement from politics and conceded he could have done some things differently.
But he said those asking him to apologise for policies during his time in power also have to give credit "for all the gains" the country made during the Celtic Tiger.
He also refused to rule out a campaign to run for President.
Mr Ahern now stands to draw down a huge pension. He will get a ministerial pension of around €98,000 and one for a TD worth €53,000 -- a total of more than €150,000 a year. He is also entitled to a once-off lump sum of around €160,000 based on his years of service as a TD.
Last night, he issued a statement confirming his intention to step down ahead of the next General Election. Later, he spoke at his headquarters in St Luke's, Drumcondra, about his regrets that we're now back to 2005 economic levels. He also hit out at the failure of financial advisers or economists to warn him that Anglo Irish Bank could cause future problems.
"I don't think it's a question of an apology," he said when asked if he felt he should apologise for any of his economic policies.
"What I've always said is I feel that all the gains I created . . . when I brought the country to full employment, I brought it to immigration instead of emigration, I brought it so we were spending billions on infrastructure.
"So I do take credit for the gains and I say I'm sorry we weren't able to keep the gains at the same level, that we did go back a bit," he said, adding that the "international recession" helped wipe out those gains.
He had gathered with the O'Donovan Rossa Cumann in St Luke's earlier in the evening and was joined by his former wife Miriam.
Flanked by his brothers Noel and Maurice, and local Fianna Fail TD Cyprian Brady, he said nobody advised him that a banking crisis could be coming down the line.
"I can honestly say, not once did any official or any delegation who was in to see me, and everyone was in to see me, not once did anyone ever say to me, watch out for Anglo (Irish Bank).
"Never ever, ever, once. Not from anyone . . . I wish they had."
He declined to rule out running for President, saying: "Everybody would love to be in the Aras, but only one person will end up there."
Mr Ahern plans to canvass for Fianna Fail in the next General Election but admitted that the people will be tough on Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his colleagues.
"I hope they do better than all the opinion polls, and I think they will. But we're not doing great because we've had to make hard decisions, we've had to make tough decisions.
His decision to retire after 40 years in politics means he will now be financially better off than if he had returned to the backbenches after an election.
In his formal address to his local cumann Mr Ahern acknowledged the economic turmoil being endured and the difficulties being faced by so many people across the country, saying he "dearly wished 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."
He added that he believes our economy will recover.
As a former Taoiseach, he will still be entitled to a state car, a garda driver and garda protection for his home for life, as well as a secretarial assistant and a mobile phone -- also paid for by the State, for life.
He said last night that he sees the car as a "security issue".
Mr Cowen paid tribute to Mr Ahern, who now joins Noel Dempsey, Dermot Ahern, Jim McDaid, Rory O'Hanlon, Martin Cullen, MJ Nolan and Sean Ardagh in bowing out of politics ahead of the General Election.
Mr Cowen described his predecessor as "without question the consummate politician of our generation in this country".
"He is a person of rare ability and extraordinary talent," Mr Cowen said.
"He has an immense work ethic and he is a superb negotiator."
Mr Ahern said it had been an "incredible journey" since 1977 and an extraordinary privilege to represent the people of Drumcondra and Dublin Central for over 30 years.
He said he now plans to spend more time with his family and in the gym.