Bertie Ahern

bertie ahernBertie Ahern (1951- ) is a former Republic of Ireland politician who served as taoiseach (prime minister) between June 1997 and May 2008. He became an important contributor to the Northern Ireland peace process, participating in the Good Friday and St Andrews negotiations. Patrick Bartholomew Ahern was born in northern Dublin, the son of a farmer who fought with Éamon de Valera and the Anti-Treaty IRA during the Irish Civil War. Ahern was educated in Catholic schools before completing some tertiary training in commerce. He later worked as a bookkeeper at a Dublin hospital. Like others in his family Ahern held Republican views, joining Fianna Fáil as a teenager. He assisted Fianna Fáil candidates with election campaigns during the 1960s. In 1977 Ahern was elected to the Dáil Éireann, representing Dublin Finglas. He held several ministerial portfolios before becoming party leader in November 1994.

Ahern became taoiseach after a general election in June 1997. His elevation to the national leadership coincided with the election of Tony Blair in Britain and a second Provisional IRA ceasefire that reinvigorated the peace process. Ahern and Blair formed a close working relationship that developed into a friendship. Both played pivotal roles in organising and leading the April 1998 negotiations that culminated in the Good Friday Agreement. Ahern persisted despite the death of his mother early in the negotiations. Eight years later Ahern and Blair convened talks in Armagh (April 2006) and St Andrews (October 2006) that resolved issues with power-sharing and brought the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) into the agreement. Ahern also pushed for the amendment of two articles in the Irish constitution, controversial among Unionists for their claim on the Six Counties of Northern Ireland.

Ahern considered the Good Friday Agreement his greatest achievement as taoiseach, though it triggered harsh criticism from Republicans in his own country. Ahern’s domestic popularity peaked in the early 2000s, earning him reelection in 2002 and 2007. Ireland’s declining economy, coupled with allegations about Ahern’s personal finances and revelations of suspect cash donations, led to his resignation in May 2008. He was later forced to surrender his membership of Fianna Fáil. Modern Irish commentators have praised Ahern’s handling of the peace process while condemning his economic management of the Republic.

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