Ireland’s Ahern to quit leadership post – The Washington Times


DUBLIN — Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced yesterday that he will step down next month after accusations of corruption.

Ireland achieved record economic growth and peace with Northern Ireland during Mr. Ahern’s 11-year tenure, but an ongoing inquest into the prime minister’s personal finances raised questions about more than $1 million in payments.

Mr. Ahern will formally step down May 6. He is scheduled to address Congress in Washington on April 30 and then host the Japanese prime minister in Dublin.

“I have done no wrong and wronged no one,” an emotional Mr. Ahern told reporters. He was surrounded by his government ministers, most of whom learned of the resignation only hours before the announcement.

Mr. Ahern said he had “never done anything to corrupt my office.”

On Monday, Mr. Ahern challenged a tribunal that had homed in during the past year on a plethora of cash gifts and loans in the early 1990s, when he was finance minister.

The resignation will not halt the inquiry into Mr. Ahern’s personal finances.

A series of cash gifts and unexplained bank accounts was revealed during cross-examinations at the tribunal in recent months. Matters came to a head when a former personal secretary broke down in tears before the inquest, after contradicting Mr. Ahern’s recollections of certain donations and bank deposits.

Mr. Ahern said his continued leadership could jeopardize the European Union’s latest centralization move, as Ireland votes in an upcoming referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, a version of the EU constitution.

As EU president in 2004, Mr. Ahern helped broker an agreement on the constitution, although France and the Netherlands jettisoned the deal in 2005 referendums.

When Mr. Ahern became prime minister in 1997, Ireland was three years into a period of soaring economic growth and employment.

One year later, Mr. Ahern left his mother’s funeral to finalize the Good Friday Agreement.

Tony Blair, the British prime minister at the time, praised Mr. Ahern’s role in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. “He will always be remembered … for transforming relations between Britain and the Irish Republic,” Mr. Blair said.

Last year, Mr. Ahern won a third consecutive parliamentary election, this time bringing his Fianna Fail, or Soldiers of Destiny, party and its economically liberal Progressive Democrat partners into a “Champagne and Sandals” coalition with Ireland’s Green Party.

It was the result of aggressive electioneering by Brian Cowen, Mr. Ahern’s finance minister and likely party leader successor.

The next prime minister will have to confront a changed economic context, with no growth forecast for this year because of a domestic construction slump and U.S. slowdown. American multinationals such as Google and Intel have European headquarters in Ireland.

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