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Profile: Bertie Ahern
Bertie Ahern
Under fire: Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has been answering questions in the Dail as he struggles to ride out a gathering storm over loans and cash he received in the 1990s.

Until now Bertie Ahern's nine years as Taoiseach (the Irish term for prime minister) have been relatively free of the political scandal that has so often affected Irish politics.

A formidable politician, Mr Ahern has a remarkable track record. He has forged a succession of coalition governments for his Fianna Fail party, helped negotiate the Good Friday Agreement for Northern Ireland in 1998 and headed Ireland's six months of the EU's presidency at the end of 2003.

Beyond this, Mr Ahern can take much of the credit for rural Ireland's economic transformation into the Celtic Tiger and for his small country's boom as a ground-breaking minister for labour in the 1980s.

BERTIE AHERN
Born 12 September 1951
Educated at University College Dublin and Rathmines College of Commerce
Involved in politics from the age of 14, became youngest PM in modern Irish history
Has two daughters, Cecelia and Georgina
Very much a European leader, Mr Ahern also has classic Irish political credentials, with a background steeped in nationalism and a passionate love of his country's Gaelic sporting traditions.

His official biography gives as his occupation "Taoiseach" and notes he was formerly an accountant, but it seems he firmly marked himself out for politics at the age of 14 when he reportedly had the job of scrambling up Dublin lamp-posts to hang election posters for Fianna Fail.

Patrick Bartholomew Ahern was born in September 1951 and brought up in the working-class Dublin suburb of Drumcondra to a father who served during the 1919-1921 War of Independence from Britain and the bitter civil war which followed.

Reformer

His Irish Republican roots were married to a classic Roman Catholic education in the capital: secondary education with the Christian Brothers, then University College Dublin and Rathmines College of Commerce.

Fianna Fail was the party of choice for Republicans and Mr Ahern was elected a TD (member of the Irish parliament) in 1977 - initially for Dublin-Finglas, then Dublin Central from 1981.

Apart from his parliamentary work, he served as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1986-87.

As a TD, he built up a strong economic record, becoming minister for labour in 1987 and subsequently holding the portfolios for industry and commerce, and finance.

Bertie Ahern as Ireland's labour minister in the late 1980s
Youthful success: Ahern was Irish labour minister in the late 1980s
Mr Ahern transformed the labour ministry from a low-profile department to a key player in economic reform, hammering out deals with the trade unions and achieving a national economic agreement designed to give the Tiger its claws.

In parallel with his work as a minister, he earned a reputation as a political fixer, helping to negotiate a coalition deal for his party with the minority Progressive Democrats (PD) in 1989 and save that cabinet again at talks in 1991.

"The most skilful, the most devious, the most cunning of them all," is how the late Charles Haughey, the former Fianna Fail prime minister, once famously described him.

Mr Ahern became leader of Fianna Fail in 1994 and, after a period in opposition, took his party into a new coalition government with the PD in 1997.

Controversy

In 2002, his government was returned to office - the first cabinet to be re-elected since 1969.

When he took office as Taoiseach, Mr Ahern became the youngest prime minister in modern Irish history.

He has also broken the mould of Irish politics in another, more personal respect: he is one of the few prominent Irish Catholic politicians to separate from his wife and openly take a new, unmarried partner, though they later split too.

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern sign the 1998 Good Friday Agreement
Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern sign the 1998 Good Friday Agreement
In other respects, he is very much close to Irish tradition attending, for example, Gaelic football matches.

And his daughters, Georgina - who married Nicky Byrne of the boy band Westlife - and the best-selling novelist, Cecilia, are almost as well-known as their father.

But recent revelations concerning loans totalling 61,000, now repaid, made by a dozen of his friends to fund Mr Ahern's marital separation and an 8,000 fee supposedly paid for speaking at a function in Manchester in 1994, have seriously damaged his reputation with voters.

But, even though 60% of respondents in a recent poll said that they believed Mr Ahern to be a hypocrite, only a third felt that he should resign.




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Ireland
03 Mar 04 |  Country profiles

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