Belfast Telegraph

Former leader Bertie Ahern sparks furious row on his exit

Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern

Fianna Fail effectively consigned three-time Taoiseach Bertie Ahern to history last night after he sparked a furious row over the handling of the economic crisis.

On his last full day of a 34-year Dail career, Mr Ahern bowed out in a blaze of controversy after a series of gaffes sparked a wave of public outrage.

But in a sign of how far Mr Ahern's star has waned, Fianna Fail -- the party which once described him as its greatest political asset -- dismissed the controversy as "irrelevant".

A Fianna Fail spokesman said: "What happened with Bertie is irrelevant to what this election is about, which is about the future. That's what Micheal Martin is about. Personality politics is not what this election is about."

A day after new leader Mr Martin apologised for the economic mistakes made by the Government, Mr Ahern said he wished "somebody somewhere" had warned him about the looming banking catastrophe while he was in power.

He also listed his failed attempt to build a national sports stadium -- nicknamed the 'Bertie Bowl' -- among his biggest regrets.

Mr Ahern -- who will be paid more than €150,000 a year in ministerial and TD pensions -- again failed to acknowledge that any policies pursued by his governments contributed to the economic crisis.

The incident involving Mr Ahern completely overshadowed Mr Martin's first full day as Fianna Fail leader.

Reacting to the comments, Mr Martin said that everyone knew that former Taoiseach had "a particular thing about the stadium".

Speaking in Sligo last night Mr Martin said that when people are doorstepped they can make a number of comments.

"He also said that people had never told him about how bad the banks were. That is a much more fundamental point to me," Mr Martin added.

Mr Martin also said that in fairness to the former Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, he had made a big contribution and deserved credit for Croke Park.

Mr Ahern's intervention will put the focus back on the party's economic legacy as Mr Martin tries to present a new face to voters.

It came less than 24 hours after Mr Martin went the furthest of anyone in Fianna Fail in apologising for the party's role in the economic crisis.

After winning the party leadership, Mr Martin said: "I am sorry for the mistakes we made as a party and that I've made as a minister -- very sorry."

Some in Fianna Fail were exasperated by Mr Ahern's intervention at a time when the party is trying to rebuild.

However, the spokesman insisted Fianna Fail did not buy into the notion that Mr Ahern's legacy would cast a shadow over the election, which is taking place at a time when 440,000 people are unemployed and 100,000 have emigrated in the last two years.

Mr Ahern described Mr Martin as a "fine person" and said he "had the privilege to appoint him to all my cabinets".

Mr Martin, who has sat at Cabinet since 1997, spent most of his first full day as leader in party headquarters preparing for the election and he travelled to Sligo last night for a selection convention.

Mr Ahern was asked yesterday if he had any regrets leaving the Dail after serving as a TD for 34 years. "In politics, there are a lot of things that you would have liked to achieve," he told RTE.

"I would like to be leaving today with unemployment at 4pc and economic growth being the 10pc and 11pc it was for the many years I was there.

"I suppose I have lots of regrets about different things. I would have loved if somebody somewhere told me what was going on in the banks in this country but nobody ever did. We get wise after the event.

"I would have loved to have achieved, as well as giving the money to Croke Park and the ?191m to Lansdowne Road, I still think we didn't get a proper national infrastructural stadium.

"Unfortunately, when I see little countries and Qatar and Kuwait and everyone in the World Cup talking about their tent stadiums and we never succeeded in getting one national stadium. That's an achievement I tried hard to do but I didn't get."

But he did not acknowledge if any policies pursued by him or his governments played a part in the economic crisis.

Mr Ahern will be paid ministerial and TD pensions worth more than ?150,000 a year for the rest of life. He is also in line for a once-off lump sum of around ?160,000 based on his years of service in the Dail.

Afterwards, he told the Irish Independent he ranked the failure to build the stadium third among his regrets, after the jobs and banking crises, and said he was proudest of peace in Northern Ireland.

He was accosted yesterday as he filmed the television interview by People Before Profit councillor Joan Collins, who was taking part in a protest with Joe Higgins's new United Left Alliance group.

Mr Ahern last night said that although he didn't recognise who Ms Collins was, he saw her taking part in a the protest.

Ms Collins said last night that she did not see the television cameras, although she knew Mr Ahern was being interviewed.

She said she heard Mr Ahern talking about his regrets but said she did not hear him discuss the unemployment rate or the banking crisis and denied it was an effort to raise her profile.

Belfast Telegraph


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