I Quit. Bertie Sets Date for Departure; Stepping Down: Mr Ahern, Escorted by His Ministers, Confronts His Destiny

Article excerpt

Byline: Helen Bruce, Ferghal Blaney

WHEN the end came, it came amid tears: the tears of Cabinet colleaguesand the tears Bertie Ahern fought back as he announced his resignation.

Bowing out after 11 years as Taoiseach, Mr Ahern yesterday insisted that theshock announcement was of his own choosing and was not forced upon him bycolleagues or the growing tide of revelations about his secret cash dealings.

But the Irish Daily Mail can today reveal that the final fateful decision wasonly taken late on Tuesday night, as he found the Mahon Tribunal squeezing itsnoose ever more tightly.

The Taoiseach had been presented with 150 pages of documents which have thepotential to seriously undermine his sworn evidence to date and may leave himfacing further allegations of perjury and cover-up at the planning inquiry.

It is understood that Mr Ahern, who had been considering stepping down sincethe weekend, then placed a late-night call to his Tanaiste Brian Cowen toinform him that the die was cast.

Most of his other Cabinet colleagues were kept in the dark until shortly beforehis emotional resignation speech, delivered at 10.50am on the steps ofGovernment Buildings.

Surrounded by his ministers, Mr Ahern expressed thanks to his supporters overmore than three decades in the corridors of power.

Tributes to his leadership flooded in from fellow politicians for hiscontribution to Irelands economic progress and social partnership agreements,while others, including former British prime minister Tony Blair, praised hisefforts to secure peace in the North.

Although he had planned to stay on until the local and European elections nextsummer, the Taoiseach said he will now tender his resignation to President MaryMcAleese on May 6exactly two weeks before he is due to appear again before the tribunal, forwhat could be a savage cross-examination in the light of the latest findings. …