Belfast Telegraph

Cowen hails outgoing minister Ahern

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has paid tribute to Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and former Ceann Comhairle Rory O'Hanlon after they announced they are quitting the Dail.

In a surprise blow to Fianna Fail in the north-east, Mr Ahern, widely tipped as a potential leadership contender, will stand down at the next general election. The 55-year-old Louth TD was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 18 months ago, but claimed he made the decision at the last general election and told Mr Cowen in October 2009.

The Taoiseach described Mr Ahern as one of the most able, experienced and hard-working politicians of his generation. "In this department, Dermot has been a reforming minister who has carried out his duties with great ability and commitment to the public good," Mr Cowen said.

"He has been an innovative minister for justice with many achievements including the recent ground-breaking anti-gangland legislation."

Mr Cowen said he was pleased the minister would continue in the Department of Justice until the imminent election is called. "I know that in the period ahead he will continue to serve the Irish people and his constituents with the same high level of commitment and conscientiousness that has defined his entire career in politics," the Taoiseach added.

Mr Ahern said he had been advised he should lead a slower pace of life because of his medical condition. "I have been advised that a change in my pace of life is essential in coping with this condition," he said.

He is the second TD to quit in the constituency, with Sinn Fein's Arthur Morgan also set to stand down at the next election, leaving Fine Gael's Fergus O'Dowd and Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk, of Fianna Fail. Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams is set to leave his West Belfast heartland to contest the border constituency.

Mr O'Hanlon revealed he too will not contest the next general election. The 76-year-old Fianna Fail TD for Cavan/Monaghan, who has been in the Dail since 1977, said he informed local party members of his retirement over the weekend.

Mr Cowen thanked Mr O' Hanlon for his years of service to the country and Fianna Fail, saying he had made an outstanding contribution to Irish life. "His long career as a public representative is a shining example of all that is good in politics and public service," Mr Cowen added.

Mr O'Hanlon said he would remain an active member of Fianna Fail's Carrickmacross cumann after his retirement.

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