Europe

Ex-Irish PM Bertie Ahern to stand down at next election

Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern
Image caption Mr Ahern worked with Tony Blair's in the run-up to the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements

Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern has confirmed he will not stand in the Republic's forthcoming election.

Mr Ahern, who worked closely with Tony Blair in the run-up to the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements, made his comments at a meeting of his Fianna Fail branch in Dublin.

He said that he had planned to step down from the Dail before he reached 60 as far back as 2002.

Fianna Fail is expected to face a humiliating election defeat.

Mr Ahern resigned in May 2008 after 11 years as prime minister.

His successor Brian Cowen has been tackling the country's economic problems which hit their lowest point last month with an 85 billion euro (£73.24bn) IMF/EU bailout.

He said in a statement: "It was always my plan that I would step down before I was 60. With an election due in the spring and my next birthday in September being my 60th, I want to confirm tonight that I will not be a candidate at the next general election."

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

He will be remembered for his role in the negotiations leading up to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

Allegations

When the talks at Stormont were in their crucial final stages, he returned from his mother's funeral to rejoin the negotiations.

Mr Ahern stood aside as Taoiseach to fight corruption allegations that risked tarnishing his achievements while in office.

In his statement, Mr Ahern said: "It is not given to anyone in life who tries and tries again not to sometimes fail. Years of apparently great success then, are apparently tainted by great failures now.

"But when that stock is taken, when the eleven years I had the honour to be Taoiseach are more coldly considered, the many positives will be put into the balance with the negatives."

Two other senior members of Fianna Fail -- Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey -- have already said they will not run in elections Mr Cowen has promised to call in the first quarter of 2011.

Opinion polls suggest Fianna Fail's presence in the lower house could be halved after the vote, with the centre-right Fine Gael and centre-left Labour parties overwhelming favourites to form a coalition.