Online Encyclopedia Search Tool

Your Online Encyclopedia


Online Encylopedia and Dictionary Research Site

Online Encyclopedia Free Search Online Encyclopedia Search    Online Encyclopedia Browse    welcome to our free dictionary for your research of every kind

Online Encyclopedia

Bertie Ahern

Patrick Bartholemew "Bertie" Ahern (Ir. Pádraig Parthalán Ó hEachtairn) (born September 12, 1951) has served as the tenth Taoiseach of Ireland since 1997. He has been a TD since 1977 and in 1994 became the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil. Ahern has also served as Minister for Labour (1987-1991), Minister for Finance (1991-1994) and served as acting Tánaiste on one brief occassion.

An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, TD


Rank: 10th Taoiseach
Term of Office: June 26 1997 - present
Predecessor: John Bruton
Successor: -------
Date of Birth: Wednesday, September 12, 1951
Place of Birth: Dublin, Ireland
Profession: Accountant
Political Party: Fianna Fáil
Tánaiste: Mary Harney (PD) (1997-)


Early and private life

Ahern was born in Drumcondra, Dublin into a traditional republican family. His father Con, a native of County Cork, had seen active service during the War of Independence, the Civil War and had been a supporter of Eamon de Valera and the Anti-Treaty forces. His mother, Julia, was also a native of the Rebel County. Ahern was educated at St. Patrick's National School in Drumcondra, St. Aidan's Christian Brothers in Whitehall , University College, Dublin, Rathmines College of Commerce and has claimed to have been educated at the London School of Economics. Ahern qualified as an accountant and secured a job in the Mater Hospital.

By 1972 Ahern had met his wife-to-be, Miriam Kelly, a bank official who lived just around the corner from the Ahern's in Dublin. The couple were married on the occassion of Ahern's 24th birthday in 1975. However, juggling political and personal lives proved too much for the couple. The strains were clearly visible when Ahern became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1986. However, it was the pressure of a Cabinet position which drove the couple even further apart. The marriage officially ended in 1992. Although seperated the two are still on good terms with one another. Ahern has also enjoyed a long-term relationship with Celia Larkin, a Fianna Fáil activist who he met in the 1980s. However, since mid-2003 they are no longer a couple. Ahern has two daughters from his marriage Georgina and Cecelia , who is a best-selling novelist.

The marriage of his daughter Georgina to Westlifes Nicky Byrne proved a major talking point. The decision by the couple to marry in France instead of Ireland, the cost of the wedding, the show-business aspect, and the selling of the wedding photos to the magazine Hello! all proved to be the source of controversy.

Ahern is a deeply religious politician. A devout Roman Catholic, he has twice visited Lourdes with his late mother and he attends Mass every Saturday evening in the Pro-Cathedral in Dublin. He proudly displays the sign of the cross on his forehead every Ash Wednesday. Howver, despite his supposed religiousity, he has been censured by the Desmond Cardinal Connell, Archbishop of Dublin for the public nature of his relationship with Cecelia Larkin.

Early Political Life

Ahern's introduction to politics came at the age of 14 when he became involved in a Fianna Fáil by-election campaign in his constituency. Ahern had the task of climbing up lamp posts to hang up election posters. During this campaign Ahern first met his political mentor and future Taoiseach, Charles Haughey. In the 1969 General Election Ahern helped in the election campaign in his constituency again. The Dublin-Central constituency produced Charles Haughey and George Colley as TDs. These two men would later go on to battle with each other for the leadership of the party a decade later.

The 1977 General Election was Ahern's first attempt to get elected and he succeeded. Ahern received 4,000 first preference votes and was elected with transfers from other candidates. His first election set a precedent because he went on to become one of the highest vote-getters in the country. The election was not only a special occassion for Ahern. Fianna Fáil achieved 50% of first preference votes and was elected with a 20 seat Dáil majority, the biggest majority ever in Irish parliamentary history. It was also the last time that one, single party governed with an overall majority.

During his first few years as a TD Ahern was just another anonimous backbencher, however, he did have ambition. In 1979 the concerns of the Fianna Fáil Party turned to who would succeed Jack Lynch as Party leader and as Taoiseach. The two contenders were two of Ahern's old constituency colleagues, Charles Haughey and George Colley. It is well known that Ahern, who had served on a health committee with Haughey in the mid-70s, backed Haughey in the leadership race. In the Cabinet reshuffle which ensued Ahern knew that he was too low down on the political ladder to expect any real promotion from Haughey, however, he was still appointed Assistant Government Chief Whip.

In 1980 the actual Chief Whip, Seán Moore , became very ill. This meant that Ahern was effectively doing the work of Moore without any additional credit. However, he did build up experience of the goings-on and dealings of government. In 1981 and 1982 Ireland was faced with three general elections Ahern increased his personal vote on all three elections, on one occasion he even out-polled his running mate George Colley, a man who had hoped to be Taoiseach less than three years earlier. In the short-lived Fianna Fáil government of 1982 Ahern served as Government Chief Whip. Fianna Fáil were consigned to the opposition benches for five years. During this fallow period Ahern became Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1986.

Cabinet Career

In 1987 Fianna Fáil returned to power with a minority government. Ahern was appointed Minister for Labour, not a hugely important portfolio when he took over. By the time he left it was apparent that it was a central department in kick-starting Ireland's ailing economy. Haughey, Albert Reynolds and Ray MacSharry were all involved in negotiating with the trade unions and in getting a national economic agreement. However, it was Ahern who became the star of the show when helped clinch the deal. Although MacSharry and Reynolds were members of the Party's hierarchy, it was Ahern who was seen as the key player.

In 1989 Haughey called an early general election in the hope of achieving that elusive overall majority. However, Fianna Fáil actually lost seats. It became apparent that Fianna Fáil may have to enter into a coalition government. The Progressive Democrats seemed to be the most likely partners and negotiations got underway, led by Albert Reynolds and Ahern. The idea of a coalition was abhorerent to some members of Fianna Fáil and the negotiations were criticised. This prompted Ahern to quote John F. Kennedy by saying that we will not negotiate through fear, but we will never fear to negotiate. The talks were successful and a coalition was formed with Ahern returning as Minister for Labour.

In 1991 the programme for government was reviewed between Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. Ahern was a key player in these talks yet again. When all hope had faded of a return to government Ahern pulled off a master stroke and the coalition was back on track. This prompted Haughey to remark of Ahern, 'He's the most clever, the most cunning, the best of the lot.'

In November 1991 the Minister for Finance Albert Reynolds and his supporters launched a leadership challenge to Haughey. Ahern publicly backed Haughey, however, he knew that he would be retiring as Taoiseach the following year anyway. The challenge by Reynolds failed and he and his supporters were dismissed from the Cabinet. In the Cabinet reshuffle that followed Ahern was promoted to Reynolds' old portfolio, that of Minister for Finance. Ahern was now the most important minister in the government, however, he had the difficult task of preparing a Budget in just a few weeks.

Reynolds Succeeds

In early 1992 Charles Haughey resigned as Taoiseach. Ahern was his preferered successor and he was also encouraged by many other colleagues to allow his name go forward, however he was apprehensive. Eventually better judgment prevailed and he remained out of the leadership contest. Apparently Reynolds and Ahern struck a deal in which if Ahern withdrew from the contest he would remain in the Cabinet and Reynolds would retire after a few years leaving the way open for Ahern. Albert Reynolds eventually became Haughey's successor as Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach. Ahern and Dr. Michael Woods were the only two senior members to remain in the new Reynolds Cabinet, with Ahern retaining his Finance portfolio.

Following the 1992 General Election Fianna Fáil formed a coalition government with the Irish Labour Party. This lasted until late 1994 when Labour withdrew from government. Ahern replaced Labour leader Dick Spring as acting Tánaiste, however, his tenure was brief as Reynolds subsequently resigned as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. This time Ahern was poised to take over the leadership.

Fianna Fáil Leader

It was a foregone conclusion that Ahern would succeed Reynolds as leader, however, another candidate, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, allowed her name go forward in the leadership race. Eventually Geoghegan-Quinn withdrew and Ahern was elected unopposed as the sixth leader of Fianna Fáil on November 17, 1994. He has been the only leader since Sean Lemass to be elected unopposed.

Negotiations between Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party for a continuation of government got underway as quickly as possible. It was taken for granted that the coalition would continue and that Ahern would become the next Taoiseach. However the Labour leader, Dick Spring, called off the arrangement and Ahern found himself as leader of the Opposition instead of leader of the government. Ahern was hugely disappointed to occupy the government benches and he was often outshone in the Dáil by Mary Harney of the Progressive Democrats.

In 1997 a general election was called and it was clear that there would be a change of government in the new Dáil. Eventually Fianna Fáil formed a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats, with the support of four Independent TDs. The PD leader, Mary Harney, would become Tánaiste and would have one other seat at Cabinet. On June 26, 1997, at the age of 45, Bertie Ahern became the youngest Taoiseach in the history of the Irish state.

First Government 1997-2002

Ahern's first government saw some early teething problems in the first six months. Firstly, Ahern attempted to nominate David Andrews as Minister for Defence and as Junior Minister at the Deaprtment of Foreign Affairs. However, this was pointed out as being unconstitutional as one minister cannot be subordinate to another. Ahern was forced into a quick retreat but there was no lasting damage. Secondly, in July Charles Haughey gave evidence at the McCracken Tribunal in which he stated that he received £1.3 million from Ben Dunne and that he had lied before about it. However, this episode did more damage to Haughey's reputation than it did to the government's. Thirdly, allegations about Ahern's Foreign Minister, Ray Burke, began to surface again. He eventually admitted to receiving £30,000 in a corrupt payment and was forced to resign. These early incidents were only minor setbacks to a government that was only finding its feet. One of the high points of the first six months was the renewal of an IRA ceasefire, which paved the way for more negotiations.

Another controversial aspect of Ahern's first half-year in office occurred when it came to nominating a presidential candidate in 1997. Former Cabinet ministers Albert Reynolds and Michael O'Kennedy were interested in seeking the Fianna Fáil nomination for President. However, Mary McAleese, a relatively unknown Party activist also sought a nomination. Ahern, it is alleged, had promised Reynolds his support if he ran in the 1997 General Election. However, in a meeting of ministers the Taoiseach gave a typically ambiguous speech which seemed to encourage his Cabinet to support McAleese. In the end, McAleese was successful and she went on to become the eighth President of Ireland. Reynolds was humiliated.

One of Ahern's biggest achievements as Taoiseach has been the on-going progress in the Northern Ireland Peace-Process. Developments came to their zenith when history was made at Easter 1998 with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement was seen as something special because not only was it endorsed by the political parties, but it also was endorsed by the British and Irish governments and the people of the Republic and Northern Ireland. The Agreement has led to a devolved power-sharing government, albeit suspended for the time being, but the hope is that permanent devolved government will return to Stormont in the near future. The negotiations also led to a new friendship with the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Another area in which Ahern can claim credit is in the expansion of the Irish economy during his first five years in office. Increased prosperity for all and a better standard of living were the main results of the Celtic Tiger economy. The good economic conditions allowed the Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, to deliver several give-away budgets. Another achievement was Irelands reaction to the 2001 Foot & Mouth Disease Crisis. Only a handful of cases were discovered in Ireland and the government was generally praised for their vigilence and swift reaction.

Following the 2002 General Election the Fianna Fáil led coalition was re-elected with an even bigger Dáil majority. It was thought that the Party might even achieve an unprecedented overall majority. However, Fianna Fáil was only a handful of seats short of the 84 required, and, as a result the coalition government remained in power. It was the first time a government had been re-elected since Jack Lynch's in 1969. Not only did the government retain its overall majority but it devastated the opposition parties. The huge election victory was clearly a vote of confidence in the government and its policies.

Second Government 2002-Present

Controversy surrounded the government's return to power when it was announced that certain cutbacks had to be made. This was the complete opposite of what Fianna Fáil had promised. Charlie McCreevy had been quoted several times as saying that no cutbcks, secret or otherwise, were planned. However, a slight downturn in the economy forced the government to rethink its policies. The government were accused of lying top the public and Ahern was booed on several occassions, including at a GAA match at Croke Park. During this time Ahern's popularity dropped to a new low and the government seemed to be growing stale.

However, this unpopular phase seemed short-lived and the government soon rearranged its priorities. One of the most famous pieces of legislation launched by the government was the blanket ban on smoking in all workplaces and inclosed areas. Huge advancements have been made in transport with the launch of the Luas, new motorways being built and the break-up of Aer Rianta.

One of Ahern's biggest achievements to date has been his successful handling of the European Presidency (see [[1] ]) in 2004. Irelands Presidency is generally considered one of the best. During this time EU leaders reached consensus on a new European Constitution, there was a rapprochement in EU-US relations, the EU formally admitted 10 new members, and selected José Manuel Durão Barroso as next President of the European Commission. For a while it looked as if Ahern himself might become President of the Commission, however, he declined in favour of domestic politics.

A downturn in opinion polls for Ahern and his government after the 2002 election was followed in 2004 by Fianna Fáil's worst local election results in 80 years. However despite speculation, no leadership challenge materialised and Ahern soon regained his popularity in the polls. His 2004 Cabinet reshuffle earned him the nickname the Tipp-Ex Taoiseach after his botched attempt to sack Séamus Brennan from the Cabinet. The reshuffle wasn't as extensive as some people would have liked, however, three new members entered the government and all but three ministers remained in their old positions. In November 2004 Ahern celebrated ten years as leader of Fianna Fáil and he became the longest continuously serving Taoiseach, with the exception of Eamon de Valera.

The future

In interviews Ahern has expressed his interest in leading Fianna Fáil into a third historic general election victory which he hopes will be in 2007. He has repeatedly stated that he hopes to remain in politics until he is 60 years old, whether he is Taoiseach, a backbencher or otherwise. Coincidentally the 2011 retirement date Ahern has set himself ties in with a Presidential election. However, it is certainly doubtful that such a hands-on politician as Ahern would wish to accept the political graveyard that is the Presidency of Ireland.

Two candidates considered contenders to succeed him, Ministers Micheál Martin and Brian Cowen, have pledged their loyalty to Ahern and have no immediate plans to unseat him. Cowen is seen as the heir-apparent to the leadership, however it is certain that Ahern will lead the Party into a third general election campaign.


Political Career

Preceded by:
Fergus O'Brien
Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach
Followed by:
Seán Barret
Preceded by:
Gemma Hussey
Minister for Labour
Followed by:
Michael O'Kennedy
Preceded by:
Albert Reynolds
Minister for Finance
Followed by:
Ruairí Quinn
Preceded by:
Dick Spring
Followed by:
Dick Spring
Preceded by:
Albert Reynolds
Leader of the Fianna Fáil Party
Followed by:
(Current Incumbant)
Preceded by:
John Bruton
Leader of the Opposition
Followed by:
John Bruton
Followed by:
(Current Incumbant)
Preceded by:
Silvio Berlusconi
President of the European Council
First Half-Year 2004
Followed by:
Jan Peter Balkenende

Tánaistithe na hÉireann Government of Ireland

Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh | Seán F. Lemass | William Norton | Seán MacEntee | Frank Aiken | Erskine H. Childers | Brendan Corish | George Colley | Michael O'Leary | Ray MacSharry | Dick Spring | Peter Barry | Brian Lenihan | John P. Wilson | Bertie Ahern | Mary Harney

Vice-Presidents of the Executive Council
Kevin O'Higgins | Ernest Blythe | Seán T. Ó Ceallaigh

Taoisigh na hÉireann Government of Ireland

Eamon de Valera | John A. Costello | Seán F. Lemass | Jack M. Lynch | Liam T. Cosgrave | Charles J. Haughey | Garret FitzGerald | Albert Reynolds | John Bruton | Bertie Ahern

Presidents of the Executive Council
Eamon de Valera | William T. Cosgrave

Last updated: 02-07-2005 08:52:27
Last updated: 02-24-2005 04:26:49