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Sunday 18 February 2018

His empathy surprised rivals despite 'bully-boy' claims and unpopularity within FF party

Fionnan Sheahan

DERMOT Ahern must be unique in politics, and indeed in life for that matter, as he claims he never made a mistake as a minister.

He has been an ever-present in the Cabinet for the past 13 years, since Fianna Fail came to power in the summer of 1997.

He admits the Government made mistakes but can't recall any mistakes on his part.

The reputation as a Fianna Fail boot-boy will never be shaken. Allied to that, the tag of unpopularity has stuck with him, so he is respected if not loved within the party.

But Mr Ahern worked hard over recent years to improve his image. From open warfare with the Green Party two years ago, the coalition partners then decided this year he was highly respectful after he passed the Civil Partnership Bill, paving the way for recognition of gay, lesbian and co-habiting couples.

But a number of controversies will haunt him. He was the senior party figure who went "up every tree in north Dublin" compiling a report for then Fianna Fail leader Bertie Ahern on allegations against Ray Burke.

Mr Burke resigned as a minister a year later and was subsequently sentenced to six months in prison for furnishing incorrect information during the Government's tax amnesty. Mr Ahern found nothing in his trawl.

His schoolyard bully behaviour as he stood by Willie O'Dea earlier this year in the motion of no confidence in the Defence Minister did him no favours.

Contrary to his denials, he wasn't happy at being left to hang out to dry a fortnight ago when he described the bailout reports as "fiction".

However, the empathy he showed in his response to the Murphy Commission report a year ago was his finest hour.

And the stance he took with the church went counter to the perception that he is guided by Catholic dogma.

The bright young solicitor became a county councillor in 1979 and he was first elected as a TD in 1987, at the height of Charlie Haughey's era as party leader.

He went on to become Government chief whip during Mr Haughey's final months as Taoiseach. He was left on the backbenches during Albert Reynolds' period in power.

Bertie Ahern brought him back into the fold as Fianna Fail chief whip in opposition. When Fianna Fail returned to power, he was appointed Social Welfare Minister, moving on to Communications in 2002 and Foreign Affairs in 2004.

He got his favoured post of Justice Minister in 2008, when Brian Cowen became Taoiseach.

His term was marked for the passage of the civil partnership laws and gangland crime legislation.

Locally, he prides himself on his contribution to the peace process and improvements to his home town of Dundalk, nicknamed 'El Paso' during the Troubles.

An able media performer, he was often bruising in debates but always decisive.

He lives in the village of Blackrock outside Dundalk, with his wife, Maeve Coleman, and two daughters.

By political standards, the 55-year-old still had plenty of time left to serve in the Dail. But he was unlikely to become Fianna Fail leader, despite his oft-expressed ambitions.

Irish Independent

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