Ireland's PM Ahern officially resigns

Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern officially resigned, following continued pressure over allegations of financial irregularities and corruption. (Report: P.Barber)


Ireland's Bertie Ahern, one of Europe's long serving prime ministers, will officially surrender his seal of office to President Mary McAleese and step down on Tuesday.

Ahern, 56, announced his surprise resignation early last month amid growing pressure over alleged financial irregularities being probed by an anti-corruption tribunal.

Denying any wrong-doing, Ahern said he is going early because the public focus on his finances was overshadowing the work of his government.

His successor, the current deputy leader and Finance Minister Brian Cowen, will be nominated on Wednesday in the lower house of parliament, the Dail, but immediately faces a headache.

His first task when he takes over the 310,000-euro (487,000-dollar) per year top political job will be to spearhead a campaign to deliver a "Yes" vote to the EU's key Lisbon Treaty on institutional reform in a June 12 referendum.

Ireland is constitutionally bound to hold a popular vote and is the only member of the 27-member bloc to do so. It is being watched keenly across the EU as the results could scupper the treaty altogether.

The Celtic Tiger economy is also running out of steam, and Cowen, 48, will have to be more austere than his predecessor, who was able to cut taxes and boost welfare allowances.

One of Ahern's final acts in office Tuesday will be the joint opening of the iconic Battle of the Boyne site north of Dublin in County Louth with outgoing Northern Ireland First Minister Ian Paisley.

Paisley, 82, is also stepping down later this month with his long-time deputy Peter Robinson succeeding him as leader of the British province's largest Protestant party, the Democratic Unionists (DUP).

Ahern and Paisley will use original 17th century swords to jointly cut the ribbon at the Boyne site, which was developed by the government as a peace and reconciliation project.

The event comes almost a year since the two men met at the site in what was seen as a further thawing in relationships between the unionist (pro-union with Britain) and nationalist (pro-union with Ireland) communities on the island.

Elected Taoiseach (prime minister) in 1997, Ahern has won three successive general elections as head of a coalition government.

He has overseen an unprecedented decade-long economic boom, earning long-ailing Ireland the "Celtic Tiger" moniker.

He also helped steer British-ruled Northern Ireland away from decades of violence, sealing the landmark 1998 Good Friday agreement and helping set up a power-sharing administration in Belfast last year.

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