/ 2 April 2008

Irish Prime Minister Ahern to step down

Bertie Ahern will step down as Ireland’s Prime Minister on May 6, bowing to pressure for him to go early following a series of embarrassing appearances in the witness stand at an anti-corruption tribunal.

Ahern, flanked by his Cabinet colleagues, announced his intention to resign to reporters in Dublin.

One of Europe’s longest-serving heads of government after almost 11 years in office, Ahern had previously said this would be his last term in office but that he did not intend to go until it ended in 2012.

”Having reflected on the need to ensure that the work of my ministerial colleagues is not distracted by incessant publicity about the tribunal, I have decided of my own volition to bring forward that date,” Ahern said.

”I know in my heart of hearts I have done nothing wrong.”

”It is my intention to tender my resignation to President McAleese on Tuesday May 6,” he said.

Widely praised for his work with former British prime minister Tony Blair and former United States president Bill Clinton in bringing peace to Northern Ireland, Ahern’s star has been on the wane after revelations about his personal finances.

His popularity has dipped in line with Ireland’s once thriving economy, which began to slow last year after a decade-long property boom ground to a halt.

Since first testifying before the Mahon Tribunal in September, Ahern has repeatedly been called back to answer questions over payments he received from friends and businessmen while finance minister in the 1990s.

Ahern, who did not have a bank account at the time, has denied any wrongdoing, describing his finances as complex but not improper following the breakdown of his marriage. — Reuters