ertie Ahern’s return to the Fianna Fail party is like resolving a row between family, a junior minister has said, while ruling out any senior role for its former leader.
When serving as leader of Fianna Fail, the Dublin politician won three back-to-back elections for the party, and was Irish premier from 1997-2008.
He left the party 10 years ago, as efforts began within Fianna Fail to expel him following a tribunal’s findings.
While the Mahon Tribunal, which looked at allegations of planning corruption, did not find Mr Ahern to be corrupt, it said he did not “truthfully account” for money he lodged to his bank account.
He’s entitled to be a rank-and-file member and that’s all that’s involved here now
As Fianna Fail is now stuck in the mid-teens to high-20s in opinion polls, speculation abounds about the consequences of the former taoiseach’s return to his party as an ordinary member.
Minister of state for international development Sean Fleming said that despite rumours that the veteran politician may run for the Irish presidency in 2025, he said elections were “furthest from our minds”.
“I haven’t spoken to Bertie Ahern directly,” Fianna Fail TD Mr Fleming told RTE Radio.
“He was our party leader for a number of years and we know the work he did on the Good Friday Agreement social partnership, something we’ve kind of lost a little bit in recent times.
“However, he was out of our party for 10 years.
“I just see it, straight up, the guy wants to come back into the fold, like somebody in the family falling out with a family: ‘Ten years have passed, can we come back into the fold?’
“I actually personally don’t believe there’s anything further beyond him just wanting to be back in the fold.”
He said that the next general, European, local and presidential elections were “furthest from our minds at this stage”.
Mr Fleming added: “He had been a very senior officer in the party – a party leader – there’s no question of him returning to any senior position of influence in the party.”
In the wake of his readmittance this week, Mr Ahern told reporters his intention is to be helpful to the Government in helping to restore Northern Ireland’s powersharing institutions.
“I’ve no intention of going back to my old job,” he said, but added the presidential election was “too far away” to comment on, adding that it “doesn’t come up for a long, long time”.
When asked whether his return was a rehabilitation of his image, he said: “I don’t have to rehabilitate myself anywhere.”
Tanaiste and Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said Mr Ahern had made “an outstanding contribution to peace on the island of Ireland”, and in that context he welcomed his membership.
When asked what voters would make of the decision to readmit Mr Ahern, Mr Fleming said “people can judge Bertie Ahern… themselves”.
“I accept what the tribunal said, full stop,” he added.
“Yes he made bad mistakes, serious mistakes, but should they be held against him forever? He’s entitled to be a rank-and-file member and that’s all that’s involved here now.”