Tuesday 24 April 2018

Ahern free to return to Fianna Fáil ranks after Martin smooths his way

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has been invited to rejoin FF’s Dublin Central branch. Photo: Arthur Carron
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern has been invited to rejoin FF’s Dublin Central branch. Photo: Arthur Carron

Niall O'Connor and Kevin Doyle

FiannaFáil leader Micheál Martin will not block former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's application to rejoin the party.

The Irish Independent can reveal that the issue of Mr Ahern's comeback has been discussed by a number of figures in the Dublin Central constituency for several months.

Senior party figures last night insisted that Mr Ahern would be treated like any other applicant, and there would be no attempt to prevent him from returning to the party fold.

However, the same sources emphasised that Mr Ahern had not yet decided whether he would seek to rejoin Fianna Fáil and that party headquarters had no idea of his intentions.

The prospect of Mr Ahern making a return to politics emerged after his Dublin Central branch voted unanimously to extend an invitation to the former political heavyweight.

The decision was taken after a motion was laid down by local activist Chris Wall, who is a close associate and friend of Mr Ahern.

Speaking yesterday, branch chairman Brian Mohan said it would now be up to Mr Ahern as to whether he accepted the invitation and submitted an application to rejoin the party.

Mr Mohan, who is expected to be the party's candidate in the local elections, said the decision was taken after "a deep, meaningful discussion".

Dispute

A letter will now be sent to Mr Ahern inviting him to return as a branch member.

The former Dublin Central TD quit Fianna Fáil in March 2012 following the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report.

The report made serious and negative findings against Mr Ahern in relation to a number of payments made to him while he was Taoiseach. Mr Ahern has disputed the findings.

However, he has become more visible in terms of his public appearances in recent months, sparking speculation that he is eyeing up a return.

Mr Ahern was also drafted in to mediate a long-running dispute over a handball centre in the constituency, which was resolved in recent weeks.

The decision to table the motion to invite Mr Ahern to rejoin came after a number of delegates said there needed to be greater "unity" within the branch.

The meeting at the Skylon Hotel heard a presentation from former councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who previously fell out with the so-called 'Drumcondra Mafia'.

The issue of Mr Ahern's potential return was the talk of Leinster House yesterday.

Veteran Fianna Fáil deputy Willie O'Dea described the former Taoiseach's possible comeback as "hypothetical".

He told RTÉ's 'News at One' programme: "Look, I mean, I just read this in the paper on the way over. I don't understand what all the hype is about.

"If he [Bertie Ahern] makes an application to return, we will deal with it in the same way as anyone else.

"I have so many problems on my desk, I don't see the point in discussing something that is entirely hypothetical."

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe, who holds a seat in Mr Ahern's constituency, played down the prospect of his return.

"My understanding of where Fianna Fáil were going is that they were looking to put the past behind them. That doesn't seem to be happening," Mr Donohoe said.

"But I do think it's unlikely we're going to see Bertie Ahern handing out public leaflets any time soon."

Mr Ahern was expected to address the speculation about his potential return in the coming days, sources said.

Irish Independent

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