Outgoing Ahern to mark Good Friday anniversary

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern will make a major speech in Dublin today to mark the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement as he enters his final weeks in office.

It comes a day after the Taoiseach announced he would be standing down next month amid mounting political pressure over the controversy surrounding his personal finances.

He will address a conference in University College Dublin (UCD), organised by the Institute of British Irish Studies, with Northern Ireland Secretary of State Shaun Woodward.

From Conflict To Consensus – The Legacy Of The Good Friday Agreement forms part of a series of events to mark the historic anniversary.

Mr Ahern will also host former British prime minister Tony Blair and ex-US Senator George Mitchell – two key figures in the Agreement talks in 1998 – in Dublin next week.

During his resignation speech yesterday Mr Ahern reflected on his years in office and highlighted the importance of the Good Friday Agreement in bringing peace to Ireland.

“The Good Friday Agreement now provides the political framework for an island that can at last achieve its full potential,” he said.

“This week and next week, many of those who a decade ago played a role in negotiating that historic accord will gather to reflect on the work which was done and the progress which has since been made.”

A new Fianna Fáil leader-in-waiting could be elected within weeks and probably before Mr Ahern resigns on May 6.

The format of the election of the new party president will be discussed in Leinster House today by the senior office holders, the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, party chairman Seamus Kirk, chief whip Tom Kitt and assistant whip Billy Kelliher.

The leadership is on the agenda for a meeting of the national executive due to take place later this evening.

Justice Minister Brian Lenihan is the only possible leadership contender who has commented on the contest by ruling himself out for the top job.

Other ministers believed interested in the position like Dermot Ahern, Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin may announce their intentions today.

The party’s 77 TDs, excluding Ceann Chomhairle John O’Donoghue, will vote for the new leader.

Senators and MEPS will not have a vote.

Today’s special conference at UCD is one of a series of events to mark the signing of the 1998 peace accord.

George Mitchell, chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, yesterday paid a warm tribute to Mr Ahern and his commitment to the negotiations.

“On the day of his mother’s funeral, Bertie Ahern came from Dublin to Belfast before dawn for a breakfast meeting with me and Tony Blair and others,” he said.

“At noon time he flew back from Belfast to Dublin to bury his mother. After the funeral he came back to Belfast and he was up almost all night meeting with delegates.

“I can’t tell you what an impression that made, a powerful impression, on all the participants on the unionist side as well as the nationalist side and both governments.”

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