Bertie Ahern calls time on political career

The decision by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern not to stand in the next general election brings the curtain down on one of the most interesting political careers in recent times.

The decision by former taoiseach Bertie Ahern not to stand in the next general election brings the curtain down on one of the most interesting political careers in recent times.

Ahern was a larger than life figure over the past two decades and love him or loathe him, you cannot ignore him.

His political legacy has yet to be written but there will be a number of versions of it.

His electoral acumen cannot be disputed as he kept Fianna Fail in power for a decade and a half, often through turbulent times although nothing like we are experiencing at the moment.

He was a political street-fighter and his party's chances could never be discounted in an election when he was leader. There are many in the party who owe him.

Perhaps his greatest legacy was the role he played in the peace process in Northern Ireland. He was a key figure in that tortuous process and those working behind the scenes with him will testify to his huge contribution and his total and unrelenting commitment to finding a resolution.

The peace and political stability in the North now are testament to his efforts and those of the people he worked with throughout the process.

Elsewhere his legacy is a little less untarnished. Tribunal revelations and reports of 'dig-outs' did not go down well with the public and he lost a lot of his lustre when he resigned as taoiseach in the wake of some of the more dramatic tribunal revelations.

However that resignation is probably best remembered for saving him from the economic turmoil that was soon to follow.

His successor Brian Cowen was handed the reins of power at a time when the economy was facing meltdown and Bertie Ahern could ride into the sunset.

However even Cowen's fiercest critics will accept that the economic crisis wasn't of his own making - although there are reservations about he handled it.

The seeds of all the trouble were sown during Bertie Ahern's tenure. He may not have been entirely responsible either but he was the man in charge and that's when the problems began - the false property boom, the reckless lending by the banks and light-touch regulation that allowed so much continue unchecked.

Bertie Ahern did his old friend Brian Cowen no favours when he handed over power at such a time. He avoided the banks bail-out and the shock arrival of the IMF. He wasn't there for the wipeout of bank shares, for huge property developments going bust, for the creation of ghost estates throughout the country.

It may be the sign of a clever leader to know when to go. Bertie Ahern has always had his finger on the electoral pulse so he knew the game was up. He didn't want to lead Fianna Fail into an election they were certain to lose. Now he doesn't even want to be part of the team.

His ambitions for the presidency have also slipped and it's highly unlikely that Fianna Fail would pick him as a candidate.

So it looks like the final curtain on a chequered political career. How he is remembered may yet be determined by how well we cope as a nation with our current economic woes. We may not forgive him or his party's time in office if the hardship is too much to bear.

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