Page last updated at 09:17 GMT, Thursday, 3 April 2008 10:17 UK

Race on to find Ahern successor

Bertie Ahern
Mr Ahern told a news conference he will resign in May

Arrangements are due to get under way to find a successor to Bertie Ahern who is stepping down as Irish premier and leader of Fianna Fáil next month.

Deputy Prime Minister Brian Cowen is said to be the front-runner but senior party figures are due to meet on Thursday to agree terms for succession.

Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Micheál Martin has ruled himself out of the race.

Mr Ahern, 56, has been taoiseach since June 1997 and will step down on 6 May.

He has been leader of Fianna Fáil since 1994 and heads the coalition government.

Mr Martin told RTE radio he would not be contesting the election, and that he believed there was a clear successor to Mr Ahern.

1951: Born in Dublin
1977: First elected to the Dáil
1991-1994: Minister for finance
1994: Becomes Fianna Fáil leader
1997: Becomes taoiseach
2002: Re-elected
2007: Leads Fianna Fáil to third election victory, begins third term as premier

He said Mr Cowen, the current finance minister, would be a great leader of the party, and he would be giving his 100% support to him.

Meanwhile, Mr Ahern has been described as "an historic figure" in Irish politics.

Former US Senator George Mitchell, who chaired the peace negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, said Mr Ahern had played a key role.

"He made many crucial decisions and I think history will judge that there wouldn't have been an agreement [without him]," he said.

"Certainly, there would not have been an agreement in the form that emerged but for the leadership that he and Tony Blair demonstrated."

Mr Ahern announced his resignation a day after he began a court challenge to limit the work of a public inquiry probing planning corruption in the 1990s.

The tribunal is probing Mr Ahern's personal finances.

However, Mr Ahern said he had nothing to fear from on-going inquiries about his finances at the tribunal.

Mr Ahern has been the most successful politician in the Republic of Ireland since Eamon De Valera, winning three elections. He is Ireland's second-longest serving taoiseach.

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Bertie Ahern speaking about his resignation

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