Dermot Christopher Ahern
(Diarmuid Críostóir Ó hEachthigheirn; born 2 February 1955) is an Irish politician
and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform
since 7 May 2008. He is a Fianna Fáil Teachta Dála
(TD) for Louth
Early & private life
Dermot Ahern was born in Drogheda
, County Louth
in 1955. He was educated at the Marist College in Dundalk
and later attended University College Dublin
. He subsequently qualified with a degree in law
from the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland
before embarking on a successful career as a solicitor.
Ahern currently lives in Blackrock in Dundalk with his wife and their two children. His pastimes include playing golf and windsurfing. His skill at the latter is apparent as he is a former Ulster windsurfing champion. Ahern is also a former chairman of Blackrock United soccer club.He was also treasurer of Dundalk F.C. Supporter's Club.
Early political career
Ahern was born into a family that had no association with party politics whatsoever. He himself first became involved in politics at a young age, becoming a member of Louth County Council
in 1979 as a Fianna Fáil
representative. He served on that authority until 1991. Ahern was elected to Dáil Éireann
at the 1987 general election
and has retained his seat ever since. The following year he was appointed assistant government chief whip
by Taoiseach Charles Haughey
. While this was largely an unimportant and thankless role that did not even hold junior ministerial rank, Ahern worked well in his first government job, by assiduously kowtowing to Haughey.
Three years later in 1991 the Minister for Finance, Albert Reynolds, failed in his attempt to oust Haughey as Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader. Ahern was a staunch Haughey loyalist who supported the embattled leader throughout the leadership challenge and was rewarded by receiving promotion to the post of Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach with special responsibility as Government Chief Whip. Ahern was simultaneously appointed to the position of Minister of State at the Department of Defence. In February 1992 Haughey was forced to resign and Albert Reynolds eventually succeeded in becoming party leader and Taoiseach. Ahern's abject loyalty to Haughey counted for nothing with Reynolds and he lost his ministerial position and returned to the backbenches for the entire duration of the Fianna Fáil-Labour Party government.
In late 1994 Bertie Ahern (no relation) succeeded Albert Reynolds as leader of Fianna Fáil. Ahern once again returned to the senior ranks of Fianna Fáil becoming chief whip of the party. In 1997 Ahern was sent to London to check out rumours that another senior party member, Ray Burke, had received a payment from Joseph Murphy. The claim was denied and Burke was appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs two days later following the return to power of Fianna Fáil. Burke later served a jail sentence for corruption. Since that episode Ahern has taken a strong stance on the issue political corruption in Ireland - being the only member of government and Fianna Fáil to publicly call for an end to the link between business and politics with an outright ban of corporate and trade union donations to political parties.
1997–2002: Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs
Following the 1997 general election
a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats
came to power and Ahern was appointed Minister for Community, Social & Family Affairs
. He worked hard in this portfolio and secured more funds for his department due to the privatisation
of Telecom Éireann
, arguing that these funds should be secured for future pensions requirements. As Social Affairs Minister Ahern also introduced the largest social welfare and pension increases in Irish history. He also achieved pension rights for Irish people who had emigrated from Ireland prior to 1953.
2002–2004: Minister for Communications, Marine & Natural Resources
Following the return of the government at the 2002 general election
Ahern was appointed Minister for Communications, Marine & Natural Resources
. In this post he was highly critical of the perceived failures of management and unions in the main telecommunications provider Eircom
. He was an extremely interventionist minister in a telecoms market which, in his opinion, had experienced market failure. He introduced a system of Policy Directions to the telecoms regulator mandating, amongst other things, Flat Rate Internet Access. Ahern also devised and began implementing Ireland
's Broadband Action Plan which entailed the government building an alternative fibre infractructure and co-location facilities. He sanctioned a reform package for public service broadcasting in Ireland and introduced a Charter for Ireland's national broadcaster Radio Telefis Éireann
. He introduced a programme to provide free broadband internet access for every primary, secondary and special needs school in the State. Against the odds Ahern secured EU recognition and protection of the Irish Box
, an area of Irish territorial waters
out of bounds to Spanish
2004–2008: Minister for Foreign Affairs
Following a cabinet reshuffle
in 2004 Ahern received the coveted position of Minister for Foreign Affairs
, thus becoming the first Louth TD to hold that position since Frank Aiken
in the 1960s. Shortly into his tenure in April 2005 Ahern was appointed one of four special envoys for United Nations
reform by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan
. In effect the four envoys acted as Mr Annan's 'eyes and ears' around the world and presented proposals for reform at a special UN summit in September 2005. Ahern acted as envoy to European countries, on top of his other duties as minister.
Ahern has spoken of the 'Third Phase' in Irish foreign policy which he calls "Active Neutrality". This is a vision of non-aligned Ireland taking up its international responsibilities by acting as a bridge between the developed and developing world, and by acting as a world leader in conflict and disasters. In this regard he took an extremely outspoken line on the crisis in Darfur, calling on the international community to 'wake up to the reality of rape, murder and destruction in the region. More recently Ahern has announced the establishment of an Irish Volunteer Corps and a Rapid Response Corps which would harness existing expertise amongst the Irish public to assist in the developing world. Ahern is also a committed environmentalist who, for many years has recycled and composted all domestic waste and has stated that, in foreign policy terms, 'the single greatest, economic, environmental, geopolitical issue now facing us is climate change.'
As Foreign Minister, Ahern has been heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. Like many others in his party he describes himself as a republican and stated at the 2006 Seán Moylan commemoration in Cork that 'as an Irish Republican my main personal and political goal is to live to see the unity of Ireland.'
As Foreign Minister Ahern has also lead a national campaign to secure a path to permanent residency for the 25,000 to 50,000 undocumented Irish citizens resident in the United States. He has also introduced free passports for Irish senior citizens and has called for a comprehensive ban on the use of cluster munitions. Ahern was the first government Minister to call for a constitutional referendum on the issues arrising from the supreme court decision on statutory rape, five months before it became government policy.
In 2007 Ahern established the Fianna Fáil Northern Strategy Committee with the aim of developing the strategy for Fianna Fáil's expansion into Northern Ireland on foot of Ógra Fianna Fáil's recruitment drive.
2008–present: Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform
Ahern was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the 7 May 2008 by the new Taoiseach Brian Cowen
Allegations of Homophobia
Following his appointment as minister responsible for equality, it was reported that Ahern had in 1993 voted against the legislation of homosexuality. Furthermore he agreed with a statement by Fine Gael TD, Brendan McGahon when he said;
"I regard homosexuals as being in a sad category, but I believe homosexuality to be an abnormality, some type of psycho-sexual problem that has defied explanation over the years. I do not believe that the Irish people desire this normalisation of what is clearly an abnormality. Homosexuality is a departure from normality and while homosexuals deserve our compassion they do not deserve our tolerance. That is how the man in the street thinks. I know of no homosexual who has been discriminated against. Such people have a persecution complex because they know they are different from the masses or normal society. They endure inner torment and it is not a question of the way others view them. The lord provided us with sexual organs for a specific purpose. Homosexuals are like lefthand drivers driving on the right-hand side of the road."
Ahern himself added to those comments; "Will we eventually see the day in this country when, as has happened in the USA, homosexuals will seek the right to adopt children? We should think seriously about this possibility". Following his appointment as minister responsible for equality, Ahern has refused to be drawn on this matter and has not given an answer as to whether he still holds those opinions. Ahern's department are responsible for implementing the Civil Partnership Bill which was recently released in draft version.