Biography of Bertie AhernThe following text was excerpted from the Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations World Leaders.
- Personal Background
Bartholomew (Bertie) Patrick Ahern was born on 12 September 1951 in Dublin. His father was a farmer who joined the IRA during the 1919-21 war for independence. Ahern grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the north side of the city and later attended University College Dublin, where he received a degree in accounting. He also attended St. Patrick's National School in Drumcondra, St. Aidan's Christian Brothers in Whitehall, and Rathmines College of Commerce. He was first elected to the Dail in 1977, serving as a member for the Dublin Finglas constituency. Over the next five years he served in a variety of lower-level ministerial posts. In 1982, he became his party's chief whip and its parliamentary leader in the political opposition. During this time he also served for a year as Dublin's lord mayor. When Fianna Fail returned to power in 1987, Ahern received his first cabinet post as the minister of labor. Four years later he was named finance minister. He is separated from his wife, Miriam. His relationship with his longterm partner, Celia Larkin, apparently ended in April 2003.
- Political Background
Ahern was elected leader of Fianna Fail in November 1994, when a scandal in the government forced Albert Reynolds to resign. Though Reynolds left office, his party's coalition government continued to hold a majority in the Dail, and Ahern, as party leader, was set to assume the office of prime minister. However, the scandal left the coalition divided. Reynold's major partner in the government, Dick Spring of the Labour party, withdrew his support from Fianna Fail and threw it behind John Bruton and the Fine Gael Party, who then formed the new government. Since Bruton came to power more than two years after the most recent election, he was forced to call another one in 1997. This not only gave Bruton a short tenure in office before having to face the voters, it also gave Ahern a relatively quick chance to face Bruton head-on in an election. In the 6 June 1997 vote, no party won an outright majority of at least 84 seats in the Dail. Fianna Fail won 77, and its coalition partner, the Progressive Democrats, won only four. This left Ahern still a few seats short of a majority, but well ahead of the opposition's Rainbow Coalition of Fine Gael, Labour, and the Democratic Left, who combined for only 75 seats. However, it took Ahern the better part of a month to bring together a parliamentary majority. On 26 June 1997, Bertie Ahern was finally elected by a vote of 85 to 78, becoming the youngest prime minister in the history of the Irish Republic. The coalition of Fianna Fail and Progressive Democrats was dogged by political controversy in 1998 and 1999. Two tribunals established to examine allegations of financial impropriety exonerated the current leadership. But Charles Haughey, a former prime minister and close ally of Ahern, was convicted of taking bribes for personal use and misusing party funds. An important development at the time of the election was the merger of the Labour party and the Democratic Left. The new party is called the Labour Party and is more likely to provide a genuine center-left alternative to the governing coalition.
Ahern came to power supported in the Dail by two political parties and a handful of independents as his own party did not receive a numerical majority. Keeping this governing coalition together for a full five-year term may not be an easy task. However, Ireland has had minority governments in the past that have worked very well. Moreover, Ahern is regarded as an able politician. He is more popular than his own party and has maintained high approval ratings. He is considered to be very personable. Ahern is noted for his abilities as a conciliator and a negotiator, liking to hear all shades of opinion before making decisions. Yet once he does make a decision, he shows what those who know him call a steely resolve. Ahern has displayed this resolve in several areas. During the campaign and early in his term, he spoke of the need to crack down on crime, especially on drug-related violent crime, which has increasingly plagued Ireland in the past few years. Promoting a zero-tolerance policy, Ahern has withstood criticism, saying that he rejects the notion that there can be an acceptable or tolerable level of crime. Ahern has also set very clear terms for dealing with the IRA. Though soon after his election a ceasefire was declared, Ahern had previously stated that he would refuse to allow Sinn Fein, the political arm of the IRA, to have any role in negotiations until the IRA refrained from violence. In spite of his precarious parliamentary position, few believe that Ahern will be swayed in negotiations by threats from strongly nationalist deputies on whom he has to rely for votes.
Bertie Ahern in the NewsIf you Google "Bertie Ahern" you will find enough news reports to sink this website. The following selections are but a few glimpses of the man himself.
This page copyright © 2009 by Dennis Ahern.