Bertie Ahern

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An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern T.D.


Rank 10th Taoiseach
Term of Office June 26, 1997 - present
Predecessor John Bruton
Successor Current Incumbent
Date of Birth Wednesday, September 12, 1951
Place of Birth Dublin, Ireland
Political Party Fianna Fáil
Profession Accountant

Patrick Bartholemew Ahern (Irish: Pádraig Parthalán Ó hEachtairn) (born September 12, 1951), commonly called Bertie Ahern, is an Irish politician. He is, since June 26 1997, the tenth Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland, leading a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats coalition government.

Ahern has been a Teachta Dála since 1977 and currently represents the constituency of Dublin Central. Ahern has served in the governments of Charles J. Haughey and Albert Reynolds as Minister for Labour (1987-1991), Minister for Finance (1991-1994) and has also served as acting Tánaiste on one brief occasion. In 1994 he became the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil.


Early and private life

Ahern was born in Drumcondra, Dublin into a traditional republican family. His father Con, a native of County Cork, had seen active service during the War of Independence, the Civil War and had been a supporter of Eamon de Valera and the Anti-Treaty IRA. His mother, Julia, was also a native of the Rebel County. Ahern was educated at St. Patrick's National School in Drumcondra, St. Aidan's Christian Brothers in Whitehall (, University College Dublin, Rathmines College of Commerce and has claimed to have been educated at the London School of Economics. Ahern qualified as an accountant and secured a job in the Mater Hospital.

By 1972 Ahern had met his wife-to-be, Miriam Kelly, a bank official who lived just around the corner from the Ahern's in Dublin. The couple were married on the occasion of Ahern's 24th birthday in 1975. However, juggling political and personal lives proved too much for the couple. The strains were clearly visible when Ahern became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1986. However, it was the pressure of a Cabinet position which drove the couple even further apart. The couple officially separated in 1992 but remain on good terms. Until 2003, Ahern maintained a relationship with Celia Larkin, a Fianna Fáil activist whom he first met in the 1980s. However, since mid-2003 they are no longer a couple. Ahern has two daughters from his marriage: Georgina and Cecelia, the former the wife of Westlife member Nicky Byrne and the latter a best-selling romantic novelist.

The marriage of his daughter Georgina to Westlifes Nicky Byrne proved a major talking point. The decision by the couple to marry in France instead of Ireland, the cost of the wedding, the show-business aspect, and the selling of the wedding photos to the magazine Hello! all proved to be the source of controversy.

Ahern is a deeply religious politician. A devout Roman Catholic, he has twice visited Lourdes with his late mother and he attends Mass every Saturday evening in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin. He proudly displays the sign of the cross on his forehead every Ash Wednesday. He also routinely gives up alcohol during Lent each year. However, despite his religiosity, he was publicly criticised by then Archbishop of Dublin Desmond Cardinal Connell for the public nature of his relationship with Celia Larkin and that a separated father is no role model to young people for a leadership position. Connell's ire was in part because, after his installation as Cardinal, he was invited to a state reception in his honour which was officially described as being hosted by "Mr Bertie Ahern and Ms. Celia Larkin."

Ahern is also an avid sports fan. He is a keen supporter of Dublin GAA teams and Manchester United soccer club, and can be regularly seen attending matches at Croke Park and Lansdowne Road.

Early political career

Ahern's introduction to politics came at the age of 14 when he became involved in a Fianna Fáil by-election campaign in his constituency. Ahern had the task of climbing up lamp posts to hang up election posters. During this campaign Ahern first met his political mentor and future Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. Ahern became a full member of Fianna Fáil at the age of 17 and in the 1969 General Election he once again helped in the election campaign in his constituency.

Ahern's first run for elected office was during the landslide 1977 General Election, when Fianna Fáil formed the most-recent single-party government with a 20-seat Dáil majority, the largest in Irish parliamentary history. Ahern received 4,000 first preference votes and was elected with transfers from other candidates. In subsequent elections Ahern became one of the highest vote-getters in the country. He currently represents the constituency of Dublin Central.

During his first years as a TD, Ahern was just another anonymous backbencher, but did display ambition. In 1979 when Charles Haughey and George Colley, both constituency colleagues, fought a divisive battle for party leader and Taoiseach, Ahern is believed to have backed Haughey. Ahern had served on a health committee with Haughey in the mid-70s and was impressed by him even then. Following Haughey's victory, Ahern, although low on the political ladder, was appointed Assistant-Government Chief Whip, not a hugely important position, but it was a step up.

In 1980, due to the illness of the actual Chief Whip, Seán Moore, Ahern was effectively running the office, without a salary increase, enabling him to gain experience of the dealings of government. Ahern increased his personal vote in all three general elections of 1981 and 1982, even out-polling his running mate, George Colley, previously a candidate for Taoiseach. In the short-lived Fianna Fáil government of 1982 Ahern served as Government Chief Whip. Fianna Fáil were then consigned to the opposition benches for five years and during this period Ahern became Fianna Fáil Spokesperson on Labour and, in 1986, Lord Mayor of Dublin.

Cabinet career

Minister for Labour

In 1987 Fianna Fáil returned to power as a minority government. Ahern was appointed to the Cabinet as Minister for Labour, not considered a hugely important portfolio. In the following years however, it became central in kick-starting Ireland's ailing economy. Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Ray MacSharry were all involved in negotiating with the trade unions and in getting a national economic agreement. However, it was Ahern who became the star of the show when he helped clinch the deal. Although MacSharry and Reynolds were members of the Party's hierarchy, it was Ahern who was seen as the key player.

In 1989 Haughey called an early general election in the hope of achieving that elusive overall majority which had evaded him until that point. However, Fianna Fáil, while increasing its share of the vote actually lost seats. It became apparent that Fianna Fáil would have to enter into a coalition government in order to retain power. The Progressive Democrats seemed to be the most likely partners and negotiations got underway, led by Albert Reynolds and Ahern. The idea of a coalition was abhorrent to some members of Fianna Fáil and the negotiations were criticised. This prompted Ahern to quote John F. Kennedy by saying that "We will not negotiate through fear, but we will never fear to negotiate." The talks were successful and a coalition was formed with Ahern again returning as Minister for Labour.

1990 presidential election

In 1990 Ahern was campaign manager for the presidential bid of his cabinet colleague, Brian Lenihan. It proved to be Ahern's least successful campaign as the apparently unbeatable Lenihan lost to the Labour Party's Mary Robinson.

Controversy surrounded the revelation that Lenihan's public version of an incident involving the outgoing President contradicted the version told earlier to a journalist. Ahern's revelation, whether deliberate or accidental, that the journalist was Jim Duffy, lead to the reluctant release of a portion of the original interview. In the aftermath, Lenihan was sacked from the Cabinet and lost the election. Ahern was damaged in the short term by being seen as the first Fianna Fáil presidential election campaign manager to lose a presidential election.

In 1991 the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrats programme for government was reviewed. Ahern was a key player in these talks yet again. When all hope had faded of a return to government Ahern pulled off a master stroke and the coalition was back on track. This prompted Haughey to remark of Ahern, "He's the most clever, the most cunning, the best of the lot".

Minister for Finance

In November 1991, Reynolds, then Minister for Finance, launched a leadership challenge to Haughey. Ahern publicly backed Haughey, privately knowing that Haughey planned to retire the following year. The challenge failed and Reynolds and his supporters were dismissed from the Cabinet. In the reshuffle that followed Ahern was promoted to Minister for Finance. Ahern was now the senior minister in the government, and had the difficult task of preparing a Budget in just a few weeks.

Reynolds succeeds

In early 1992 Charles Haughey resigned as Taoiseach. Ahern was encouraged by Haughey and many other colleagues to allow his name go forward as successor. However he was apprehensive and he remained out of the contest, allowing Reynolds to become party leader and Taoiseach. It is believed that Reynolds and Ahern struck a deal in which Ahern would withdraw from the contest and thus remain in the Cabinet, to succeed in a few years. Ahern and Dr. Michael Woods were the only two senior members to remain in the new Reynolds Cabinet, with Ahern retaining his Finance portfolio.

Following the 1992 General Election Fianna Fáil formed a coalition government with the Labour Party. This lasted until late 1994 when Labour withdrew from government due to unhappiness with Reynold's candidate for Attorney General. Ahern briefly succeeded Labour leader Dick Spring as acting Tánaiste. However the government fell and Reynolds resigned as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader.

Leader of Fianna Fáil

It was generally expected that Ahern would now succeed Reynolds as leader. Although former Justice Minister Máire Geoghegan-Quinn briefly allowed her name go forward, Ahern was elected as the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil on November 17 1994, the first unopposed candidate since Sean Lemass in 1959.

Negotiations for a resumption of government with the Labour Party quickly got underway. It was widely expected that the coalition would continue and that Ahern would become Taoiseach. However, due to new revelations, the Labour leader called off the arrangement and instead Ahern found himself as Leader of the Opposition. He was hugely disappointed not to occupy the government benches and was often outshone in the Dáil by Mary Harney, leader of the Progressive Democrats.

In the 1997 general election Fianna Fáil ran a campaign centered on Ahern's personal popularity. The party gained seats and formed a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats, with the support of four Independent TD's. On 26 June, 1997, aged 45, Bertie Ahern became the youngest Taoiseach in the history of the Irish state.

First Government, 1997-2002

Early problems

Ahern's first government saw some teething problems during the initial six months. Firstly, Ahern attempted to nominate David Andrews as Minister for Defence and as Junior Minister at the Department of Foreign Affairs. This was unconstitutional as one minister cannot be subordinate to another and Ahern was forced into a quick retreat.

Secondly, in July, Charles Haughey gave evidence to the McCracken Tribunal on corruption confirming that he had received IR£1.3 million in gifts from businessman Ben Dunne which he had previously denied. This episode did more damage to Haughey's reputation than it did to the government's.

Thirdly, earlier allegations about Ahern's Foreign Minister, Ray Burke, began to surface again. Burke eventually admitted to receiving IR£30,000 in a corrupt payment and was forced to resign. Arising from those two matters, the government subsequently established the Moriarty Tribunal and the Flood Tribunal. Despite much scrutiny, Ahern himself has never been found to have personally benefited financially from any corruption.

These early incidents were just minor setbacks to a government that was only finding its feet. One of the high points of the first six months was the renewal of the Provisional IRA ceasefire, which paved the way for resumed negotiations in Northern Ireland.

1997 presidential election

Another controversial aspect of Ahern's first half-year in office involved the selection of the Fianna Fáil candidate to contest the Presidential elections of 1997. A strong candidate was needed to be likely to succeed the ground-breaking Robinson presidency. The party was also still sensitive about the loss of the 1990 election. Former Taoiseach Reynolds, seen as having made significant contributions to the establishment of the Northern Ireland peace process, and former Foreign Minister Michael O'Kennedy both indicated interest in the nomination. Ahern, it is alleged, had promised Reynolds his support if Reynolds first ran in the 1997 General Election. However a relatively unknown party activist, Mary McAleese, also sought the nomination. In a meeting of Ministers Ahern gave a typically ambiguous speech which seemed to encourage his Cabinet to support McAleese. McAleese received the nomination and was subsequently elected as the eighth President of Ireland. Reynolds was humiliated.

Peace process

A significant achievement of Ahern's first term was the negotiation of the Belfast Agreement, commonly called the Good Friday Agreement, in which the British and Irish Governments and most Northern Irish political parties established an "exclusively peaceful and democratic" framework for power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Negotiations for this accord had begun under the previous Taoiseach, John Bruton. The agreement was finally signed on April 10, 1998. The agreement was seen as something special because not only was it endorsed by the political parties, but it also was endorsed by the British and Irish governments and the people of the Republic and Northern Ireland. Though the agreement has yet to be implemented in full, the ceasefires and political structures it brought into being have increased the chances of a sustained peace. The negotiations also led to a friendship with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. On November 26, 1998 Blair became the first Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to address Dáil Éireann.


Ahern can also claim credit for the expansion of the Irish economy during his first five years in office. Increased prosperity for all and a better standard of living were the main results of the Celtic Tiger economy. The good economic conditions allowed his Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, to deliver several give-away budgets.

Another achievement was Ireland's vigilant and swift reaction to the 2001 Foot & Mouth Disease Crisis. Only a handful of cases were discovered in Ireland and the government was generally praised for their intervention. A major outbreak would have led to the collapse of Ireland's biggest industry, agriculture.

General Election, 2002

Ahern was determined that the 28th Dáil should serve it's full term, which it did, becoming the 2nd longest Dáil in history. The 2002 General Election was held on May 17 2002 and the Fianna Fáil led coalition was re-elected with an increased majority. Although it was thought that the Party might even achieve the elusive overall majority Fianna Fáil still remained 3 seats short of the 84 required. As a result the coalition government remained in power and it was the first time a government had been re-elected since Jack Lynch's in 1969. Additionally, the opposition Fine Gael party suffered devasting losses. The significant election victory was seen as a vote of confidence in the government and its policies.

Second Government, 2002-Present

Controversy surrounded the government's return to power when it was announced shortly after that certain cutbacks had to be made, due to the downturn in the international and Irish economies. This was contrary to what Fianna Fáil had promised during the campaign when Finance Minister McCreevy had been quoted several times as saying that "no cutbacks, secret or otherwise, were planned". The government were accused of lying to the public and Ahern was booed during several events, including a Croke Park GAA match and at the opening of the 2003 Special Olympics. The government suffered a major fall in the polls and Ahern's popularity fell to its lowest ever.

In 2003 Ahern's government maintained permission for large numbers US troops to land at Shannon Airport for refuelling despite significant public opposition to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

The downturn in opinion polls for Ahern and his government after the 2002 election was followed in 2004 by Fianna Fáil's worst local election results in 80 years. However despite speculation, no leadership challenge materialised and Ahern soon regained his popularity in the polls. His reputation for inaction in changing Cabinet Ministers ended with his long-heralded 2004 Cabinet reshuffle which earned him the nickname the Tipp-Ex Taoiseach after his botched attempt to sack Séamus Brennan from the Cabinet. The reshuffle wasn't as extensive as some had hoped for as only three new members entered government.

However, this unpopular phase seemed short-lived as the government rearranged its priorities and as the positive economic picture returned. One of the most notable pieces of legislation launched by this government was the blanket ban on smoking in all workplaces and enclosed areas in March 2004. Improvements have been made in the transport infrastructure with the launch of the Luas light rail system in Dublin, many new motorways being built and the break-up of Aer Rianta, the state-owned Airport Management company.

However, plans for a new terminal at Dublin Airport took so long to reach a conclusion that a third terminal is being planned before work on the second has started. A much-anticipated national spatial plan launched in 2003 has so-far failed to deliver any changes to the imbalance of development in the east-coast, and the decentralisation of government departments to the regions has also attracted controversy and stagnation.

One of Ahern's biggest achievements to date has been his successful handling of the Presidency of the European Council (see [1] ( in 2004. Ireland's presidency is generally considered one of the best. During this time EU leaders reached consensus on a new European Constitution, there was a rapprochement in EU-US relations, the EU formally admitted 10 new members, and selected José Manuel Durão Barroso as next President of the European Commission. Briefly, it appeared as if Ahern himself might become President of the Commission, however, he declined in favour of domestic politics.

In November 2004 Ahern celebrated ten years as leader of Fianna Fáil and became the second longest continuously serving Taoiseach, exceeded only by Eamon de Valera. He currently ranks third in terms of cumulative days served, behind both Jack Lynch and de Valera. If still in office on 6 April 2006, he will, with 3206 days, have become the second-longest serving Taoiseach. By 2007 he will have served 30 years as a TD.

The future

Missing image
President George W. Bush accepts a bowl of shamrock from An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern during a ceremony celebrating St. Patrick's Day in 2005.

Ahern has expressed his interest in leading Fianna Fáil into a third general election which he hopes will be in 2007. If reappointed Taoiseach after that election, he would be the second person to hold that office 3 times in succession (the first being Eamon De Valera). Ahern has repeatedly stated that he hopes to remain in politics until he is 60 years old, whether he is Taoiseach, a backbencher or otherwise. Coincidentally the 2011 retirement date Ahern has set himself ties in with the next Presidential election. However, it is doubtful that such a hands-on politician as Ahern would wish to accept the Irish presidency.

Two candidates considered contenders to succeed him, Ministers Micheál Martin and Brian Cowen, have pledged their loyalty to Ahern and have no plans to unseat him. Cowen, now Finance Minister, is currently seen as the heir-apparent whenever Ahern does retire.

Other facts

  • During the early 90's Ahern was known as 'Anorakman' because images of him wearing anoraks instead of suits were used in his election literature
  • Ahern is not considered an accomplished orator, however he has a skill of successfully avoiding committing himself by giving indirect, vague, ambiguous or meaningless answers to questions by journalists and in the Dáil. This behaviour has become known as "Bertiespeak"
  • Ahern is not known to have many close friends among his political colleagues
  • As of June 2005, Ahern is the 5th longest-serving political leader (European Council President-designate) among the 25 European Union member states, after Jean-Claude Juncker, Jacques Chirac, Goran Persson and Tony Blair.

Quotes from Ahern

  • 'I've looked up every tree in North Dublin.' (speaking of his investigations into Ray Burke's past)
  • 'This is a day we should treasure - a day when agreement and accommodation have replaced days of difference and division.' (April 11, 1998 - the day the Good Friday Agreement was signed)
  • 'We are not going to apologise for any small role we may have played in helping to remove a dictator who made his people suffer for 20 years, carried out horrific acts and didn't care about democracy. He is gone now, and thank God for that.' (May, 2003 - speaking of the war in Iraq)
  • 'We were always dead against the war.' (December, 2003)
  • 'To the people of Europe who are joining us today in the European Union I extend the hand of friendship...Today marks the triumph of your determination and perseverance over the legacy of history. For Europe, today marks the closure of one chapter and the opening of another new and exciting chapter in its long history.' (May 1, 2004 - European Union enlargement)
  • 'I'm one of the last socialists left in Irish politics.' (December, 2004)
  • 'What they were up to in those days were kept for the future. I'm not sure I know how legal it was...but anyway...ha ha ha.' (March 15, 2005 - Visiting the Tipperary Hill Irish neighborhood in Syracuse, New York)

Ahern's First Cabinet, June 1997-June 2002


Ahern's Second Cabinet, June 2002-Present


  • September 29, 2004: A major Cabinet re-shuffle takes place. Three Ministers, Charlie McCreevy, Michael Smith and Joe Walsh retire from the government. Three other Ministers are given what is generally seen as a promotion: Brian Cowen becomes Minister for Finance, Dermot Ahern is appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs and Micheál Martin becomes Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment. An Tánaiste Mary Harney becomes Minister for Health & Children. Martin Cullen becomes Minister for Transport. Noel Dempsey is appointed Minister for Communications, Marine & Natural Resources. Séamus Brennan remains in the Cabinet in spite of widespread predictions, becoming Minister for Social & Family Affairs. Mary Coughlan becomes the first-ever female Minister for Agriculture & Food. Three new members join the Cabinet. Mary Hanafin becomes Minister for Education & Science, Dick Roche joins the government as Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government and Willie O'Dea becomes Minister for Defence.

Political Career

Preceded by:
Fergus O'Brien
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach
Mar. 1982-Dec. 1982
Succeeded by:
Seán Barret
Preceded by:
Gemma Hussey
Minister for Labour
Succeeded by:
Michael O'Kennedy

Template:Succession box two to one

Preceded by:
Dick Spring
Nov. 1994-Dec. 1994
Succeeded by:
Dick Spring
Preceded by:
Michael D. Higgins
Minister for Arts, Culture & the Gaeltacht
Nov. 1994-Dec. 1994
Succeeded by:
Michael D. Higgins

Template:Succession box two to one

Preceded by:
Silvio Berlusconi
President of the European Council
First Half-Year 2004
Succeeded by:
Jan Peter Balkenende

Template:End box

External links

Template:Tánaistithe na hÉireann

Template:Taoisigh na hÉireannbg:Берти Ахерн de:Bertie Ahern es:Bertie Ahern fr:Bertie Ahern gl:Bertie Ahern ga:Parthalán Ó hEachthairn nl:Bertie Ahern ja:バーティ・アハーン no:Bertie Ahern pl:Bertie Ahern sv:Bertie Ahern


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