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Ahern isn’t ruling out running for president, but few in Fianna Fail are rating his chances

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has as much chance of securing the Fianna Fail nomination for the Irish presidency as his predecessor Albert Reynolds, the man he famously shafted for the same position, a senior Fianna Fail figure said in Dublin last night.

Mr Ahern has again refused to rule out running for the head of state in October when the incumbent Mary McAleese, from north Belfast, stands down.

But there was little enthusiasm for Mr Ahern's potential candidacy among several Fianna Fail TDs contacted yesterday.

One junior minister privately said it was “very hard” to see him being nominated by the party. He referred to what happened in 1997 when former Taoiseach Albert Reynolds was beaten to the party nomination by outsider Mrs McAleese.

“It would be as difficult for Bertie as it was for Albert Reynolds,” the minister said.

Mr Ahern has always denied that he was to blame for Mr Reynolds' defeat. But former minister Mary O'Rourke said last year that he had encouraged members of the cabinet to vote for Mrs McAleese.

And in his autobiography Mr Reynolds said he was sure that Mr Ahern's pretence of remaining neutral during the vote “was just that, a pretence”.

Mr Ahern would be dogged in any presidential campaign by questions about how the economy went from boom to bust under his stewardship.

He is facing a series of further obstacles if he decides to run for the job.

These include the likely publication this year of the Mahon Tribunal report into his acceptance of “dig out” payments from friends in the 1990s and a revenue investigation into whether he was tax compliant during this period. Fianna Fail sources acknowledge that Ahern faces yet another hurdle if the party votes on a new leader for the next general election.

He would have to get the backing of that leader, who may wish to create a “new story” for the party in the presidential election and put its past behind it.

However, one Fianna Fail Dublin TD yesterday said Mr Ahern could not be ruled out for the Fianna Fail nomination because he was still “pretty popular” among the TDs and Senators who would make the final decision.

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