December 30, 2010 / 11:02 PM / in 8 years

Former Irish PM Ahern to quit parliament next year

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced Thursday he planned to retire from parliament at the next election due early next year, at which his Fianna Fail party is facing defeat.

Ahern resigned after 11 years as prime minister in May 2008, leaving his successor Brian Cowen to tackle the country’s economic problems which hit their lowest point so far last month with an 85 billion euro 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.”

The first Irish leader to win three successive parliamentary elections since the 1940s, he stood aside to fight corruption allegations that risked tarnishing his achievements such as helping to reach a peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

Widely praised at the time for his work with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. President Bill Clinton in ending the conflict, Ahern’s star had been on the wane since allegations that he received money from businessmen.

Ahern was investigated by an anti-graft tribunal over allegations that he accepted money from a developer in return for favours. He has rejected the charges and the 13-year-old tribunal is expected to publish its final report next year.

The former finance minister spent the next two-and-a-half years on the backbenches, occasionally writing a sports column for the News Of The World newspaper, while the country’s once-booming economy was ravaged by fiscal and banking crises.

“It is not given to anyone in life who tries and tries again not to sometimes fail,” his statement said. “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 (prime minister) 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 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.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Andrew Dobbie

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