Cablegate: Irish Prime Minister Ahern to Resign May 6; No

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P 021523Z APR 08

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2018


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Classified By: Ambassador Thomas C. Foley; reasons 1.4 (b/d).


1. (C) Summary: Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern announced
April 2 that he will resign May 6 after almost 11 years as
both head of government (Taoiseach/Prime Minister) and the
head of his political party, Fianna Fail. Saying that he was
stepping aside because the attention paid to the Mahon
Tribunal investigations into his financial affairs (reftel)
was becoming a distraction from the more important work of
governing, he nonetheless emotionally reiterated that he
never took any "corrupt payments" and that his resignation
was a personal decision not driven by the Tribunal
proceedings. Ahern stressed that he still planned to address
a Joint Session of Congress on April 30. Officials in the
Taoiseach's office say that whoever is Taoiseach will attend
the May 7-9 investment conference in Northern Ireland.
Ahern's resignation will trigger a vote for the new Fianna
Fail party leader, who (if the governing coalition remains
intact -- as seems likely) will become the new Prime
Minister. The heir apparent is Deputy Prime Minister
(Tanaiste) and Minister of Finance Brian Cowen.

2. (C) Summary, continued. The Taoiseach's bombshell
announcement caught Ireland by surprise. Through the day on
April 2, there have been many kind words for Ahern's
accomplishments, particularly regarding the Irish role in the
Northern Ireland peace process and Ireland's "Celtic Tiger"
economic growth. We do not anticipate that new Fianna Fail
leadership portends any change in U.S.-Irish bilateral
relations, including Irish support for important U.S. foreign
policy initiatives, such as the use of Shannon airport for
troop transits to and from Iraq and Afghanistan. Once the
dust settles on this historic day in Dublin, we expect the
Irish Government to resume business as usual. End summary.


3. (U) Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Bertie Ahern
announced April 2 that he will tender his resignation as
Taoiseach to President Mary McAleese on May 6. Flanked by
Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste) and Minister of Finance
Brian Cowen and other ministers from the governing coalition
at a 10:00 AM press conference on the steps of the Dail
(Parliament), Ahern stated that he will also resign as the
head of the Fianna Fail political party, the largest party in
the Irish governing coalition. (Note: Ahern will retain his
seat as a Member of the Dail (lower house of Parliament).
End note.) While Ahern informed Cowen of his decision the
evening of April 1, he reportedly notified other members of
his cabinet only slightly earlier in the day at their
regularly scheduled breakfast meeting. Journalists were
notified of the press conference only thirty minutes before
it took place.

4. (C) During his 12-minute speech an obviously emotional
Ahern thanked all the people who had put their trust in him
over the years, particularly his family and constituents. He
said the work he was most proud of was helping to bring peace
to Northern Ireland and in overseeing the economic rise of
Ireland into one of the richest countries in Europe.
Referring to the long-running Mahon Tribunal investigation
(reftel), Ahern maintained that he had never taken a "corrupt
payment" and that the "constant barrage of commentary" was
distracting the government from its task of governing. He
said that Ireland was facing "uncertain economic times" and
the electorate would soon cast their vote on the Lisbon
Treaty referendum, so it was important that government be
allowed to function normally. Ahern pointed out that the
decision to resign was his and not precipitated by recent
revelations in the Mahon Tribunal. (Note: Damaging recent
testimony by his former private secretary stated that
payments into his personal bank accounts in the early 1990s
were made in British pounds rather than Irish punts; a fact
Ahern has strenuously denied in Tribunal testimony. An
article in The Irish Times on March 29 noted that Ahern's
transactions under scrutiny by the Tribunal totaled 452,800
British pounds. End note.) Ahern continued, saying it was,
"always my intention to review my position as Taoiseach and
leader of Fianna Fail in the aftermath of next summer's local
and European elections," but noting that he had decided to
bring the date forward to eliminate the distraction.


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5. (C) In a nod to the other parties in the current
coalition government (Fianna Fail, the Green Party, and the
Progressive Democrats) Ahern singled out John Gormley (leader
of the Green party) and Mary Harney (leader of the
Progressive Democrats) during his resignation announcement.
Green Party leader John Gormley was seen directly behind
Ahern in the televised press conference. Both Gormley and
Harney told the press later in the day that they and their
parties have no intention of leaving the coalition. They
both intend to hold their ministerial positions to 2012, when
the next general election is due to be held.


6. (U) According to officials in the Taoiseach's office,
Ahern's resignation will trigger a vote among Fianna Fail
Members of Parliament (TDs) to elect a new party leader. The
Party vote could occur as early as May 7, when the Irish
Parliament is scheduled to resume business after Ireland's
May 5 Bank Holiday. Once the Fianna Fail TDs choose a new
leader, they will put that leader forward to the entire
Parliament as the new Prime Minister. The final vote could
occur shortly thereafter.

7. (C) Assuming that the current coalition of Fianna Fail,
the Green Party, and the Progressive Democrats remains
intact, whoever is elected as the new leader of Fianna Fail
will become the next Prime Minister. The odds-on favorite is
Brian Cowen, who in news reports throughout the day on April
2, refused to be drawn out on his anticipated bid for Fianna
Fail leadership, saying that it was "Bertie Ahern's day."
Nevertheless, government and political contacts assure the
Embassy that Cowen is 99% sure to get the nod. Foreign
Minster Dermot Ahern is seen as the only likely contender,
and many wonder if he is willing to risk being weakened
within the party by a loss to Cowen.

8. (C) Cowen, a protege of former Prime Minister Albert
Reynolds, is expected to keep the coalition together upon
assuming the Taoiseach office. Cowen was the principal
architect of the current governing coalition following the
May 2007 elections. Many observers, however, expect Cowen to
"clean house" by replacing up to half the Fianna Fail
ministers in the government with colleagues of his own


9. (U) Ahern stated in his announcement that his decision to
leave on May 6 took into account his invitation to travel to
the U.S. to address a Joint Session of Congress on April 30
and a state visit by the Prime Minister of Japan in early
May. He noted during his press conference that the address
before Congress will be "one of the proudest moments of my
political career."

10. (C) Ahern's resignation should have no impact on
Ireland's support for the Northern Ireland Investment
Conference. Martin Fraser, the senior most Northern Ireland
advisor in the Office of the Taoiseach, told the Embassy that
whoever is Taoiseach on May 7-8 will participate in the
conference, especially since it will give the Taoiseach a
chance to talk with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on
the margins. Similarly, Irish Foreign Affairs Political
Director Rory Montgomery told the Embassy that government
support for U.S. military flights through Shannon airport
will not change, nor will its desire to conclude a general
and commercial aviation pre-clearance and pre-inspection
agreement with the U.S.


11. (C) Montgomery and other government officials stated
that the resignation will not derail or delay the Irish
referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, proposed for early June.
Montgomery noted that Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern was due
to propose a bill today in the Parliament that would launch
the Referendum process. Montgomery stressed his belief that
Bertie Ahern was sincerely worried that his loss of
credibility would hurt the government as it led a campaign to
get the Treaty approved, and that this weighed as a factor in
favor of Ahern's leaving his post prior to the referendum.

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12. (C) Comment: The overwhelming initial reaction in
Dublin has been shock and surprise. In general, commentators
have praised Ahern for his role in the Northern Ireland peace
process and the success of the "Celtic Tiger." Irish
President Mary McAleese praised Ahern for his accomplishments
in bringing prosperity to Ireland and peace to Northern
Ireland. As for U.S.-Irish bilateral relations, we do not
anticipate that new Fianna Fail leadership portends any
change in Irish support for important U.S. foreign policy
initiatives. Once the dust settles on this historic day in
Dublin, we expect the Irish Government to resume business as

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