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Thursday, April 03, 2008
BERTIE AHERN last night declared he would be judged by history as his dramatic resignation announcement shocked both friend and foe alike.
Tánaiste Brian Cowen seemed poised for coronation as Fianna Fáil leader with the party closing ranks following Mr Ahern’s decision to exit the world stage on May 6 after his historic address to the US Congress.
As he delivered a final political masterstroke, which threw the opposition off balance, the Taoiseach insisted: "I have done no wrong and wronged no one."
Some cabinet colleagues wept as Mr Ahern informed them of his decision shortly before he made his resignation speech at Government Buildings, pulling the curtain down on his 11-year premiership. Flanked by his ministers, Mr Ahern, his voice at times breaking with emotion said: "I have never received a corrupt payment and I have never done anything to dishonour any office I have held.
"I have made mistakes in my life, but one mistake I have never made is to enrich myself by misusing the trust of the people," he said.
Mr Ahern insisted the timing of his departure was taken in "the national interest" and it would be "simplistic" to link it with recent revelations at the Mahon Tribunal.
However, the Taoiseach couldn’t resist an attack on the tribunal when he addressed the Dáil later in the day, contrasting it with the Oireachtas.
"There is a chamber outside of this House that does not have the same fairness of this establishment," he told TDs.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Mr Ahern’s resignation was "inevitable" and demanded Mr Ahern’s successor must seek a fresh mandate through a snap general election. This was rejected out of hand.
While Mr Cowen remains firm favourite to be elected Fianna Fáil leader, Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern and Education Minister Mary Hanafin refused to rule out a challenge, unlike Justice Minister Brian Lenihan.
However, despite the push for party unity, the real battle within Fianna Fáil will be for the position of Tánaiste.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore paid tribute to Mr Ahern’s "huge contribution" to the northern peace process and world leaders were quick to heap praise on him. Tributes poured in from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, his predecessor Tony Blair, other architects of the north’s power-sharing settlement such as Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, and US senator Ted Kennedy.
President Mary McAleese said: "Bertie Ahern will be remembered as one of the outstanding politicians of his generation both nationally and internationally."
Supporters of Mr Ahern gathered outside Government Buildings to pay tribute to the second-longest serving taoiseach in the history of the state after Eamon de Valera, the first since Fianna Fáil’s first leader to have won three consecutive terms in office.
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