Minister Ahern admits that he simple "fell" into politics as he prepares to call time on his political career

WITH Senator James Carroll and Cllr Declan Breathnach confirmed as Fianna Fáil's candidates for the next General Election at the party's Louth Convention in The Fairways Hotel on Thursday, it brought about the end of an era for one of this area's most influential politicians of all time.

WITH Senator James Carroll and Cllr Declan Breathnach confirmed as Fianna Fáil's candidates for the next General Election at the party's Louth Convention in The Fairways Hotel on Thursday, it brought about the end of an era for one of this area's most influential politicians of all time.

Dermot Ahern, a member of the party since 1978 and a TD since 1987, gave his farewell speech to those gathered on the night as his decision not to seek re-election became official. Despite announcing his decision to retire from politics at the end of November, he realistically had until just after 8pm on 'Little Christmas' to make a U-turn.

Speaking at the event, the Blackrock man admitted there had been those trying to persuade him to do so but in the end he said he was happy with his decision.

Looking back on his career, which will surely come to a conclusion in the coming months, the current Minister for Justice looked back on it with a great sense of pride but he admitted to The Dundalk Democrat that a career in politics was the furthest thing from his mind growing up and said that he more or less "fell" into politics through his soccer connections.

Speaking about how his political career came about, Minister Ahern said: "I had no political background whatsoever and no real ambition to go into politics. I was only really interested in soccer and having a reasonably good lifestyle as a youngster.

"I played a lot of soccer with Rock Celtic and then with the UCD freshers team. I qualified as a solicitor in 1976 at 21 and started to work with Peter Woods and Son but what happened in 1977 or 1978 was that the pitch that we played on, which is now where Beech Park is in Blackrock, was bulldozed so there was a big hullabaloo in the village that there was no place where people used to play.

"They formed a community council and each club was asked to nominate a person and I was nominated by Rock Celtic and I became the chairman of the community council.

"There was a big move by the community to buy the field next door, which is now the community field, and we lobbied the councillors in 1978 to buy the field and we succeeded in convincing the council to buy the field by compulsory purchase order for 30,000, which was a lot of money.

"We agreed that the Blackrock community would put up 10,000 and that we'd pay it back over five years and the council put up the balance of the money. There were fairly big meetings then and I chaired them but I suppose I was chosen for that because I was a solicitor."

It was his performance in those meetings that brought the young Ahern to the attention of political parties in the area, most notably Fianna Fil.

"Some of the local Fianna Fil people spotted me at the meetings. They were Sean Cassidy, who is still alive, Owenie 'Poker' Carroll and Pat Cooney. They approached me to join the party and I was actually nominated for the council as the nominee of the Blackrock cumann, even before I was a member of the cumann.

"I got elected in 1979, which was the following year, and it was interesting because there were 25 candidates and I came fifth as a first timer. As the votes went on, I started to slip down and I was finally elected as the ninth of the 10 people. That evening I was told that I had to be at the council meeting on the following Monday for the AGM to pick the council chair for the next five years and all the various positions but I said sorry I'm going on holidays.

"I was booked on the ferry as the only driver of a car of four, which included my girlfriend - now wife - and two others. I was told I couldn't go because if I did then we wouldn't have the majority. What happened in the end was that it was agreed I'd go on the ferry and come back for the meeting. We drove to Rosslare, got the ferry from there to La Harve and I had to drive straight down to Marseille. I was the only driver and I began to fall asleep as we were going for basically 48 hours.

"I parked the car and we pitched a tent and I drove straight to Nice airport, got a flight from Nice to Paris and from Paris to Dublin where I was picked up and taken back to the family home. I went to the meeting the next morning in Drogheda and went from there to the airport, flew to Paris and then on to Nice again. It was the first immersion for Maeve in politics. She was used to having holidays disrupted ever since."

The couple married the following year but despite getting an early taste of politics, Ahern admitted he had no great ambition to move on from Louth County Council.

"When Maeve married me in 1980, we were both working and I never set out to be TD or a councillor even. I sort of fell into being a councillor by being involved into soccer.

"I had no intention of going for the Dil because I had a legal practice here in Dundalk. There were three elections in the Eighties before I went for the Dil and I didn't go forward at all for those.

"Then in 1986 came, circumstances in Fianna Fil had changed. The late Tom Bellew had left the party and there were quite a lot of defections from the party. I had no particular intention to go for the Dl even though we knew there was an election coming in ‘87 but I went to a Fianna Fil meeting in the community hall in Blackrock and they were pushing me to go.

"The late, great Aileen Smith adjourned the meeting to let me go up to talk to Maeve. I went back up to the house and talked to Maeve and an hour later, came back down and said I'd give it ago, never thinking I'd be elected to be honest because Seamus Kirk was already a TD and Jimmy Mulroy was the main candidate and I didn't think there would be two candidates in the north end of the constituency getting elected but I surprised everyone.

"I put a caravan on the back of my car and did a clinic from it in Muirhevnamor every week and I also hired a small office in Cox's Demesne from a man called Faulkner and I held a weekly clinic there as well. I went out and knocked doors from late ‘86 to February ‘87 when the election took place and I got elected against all the odds."

The rest, as they say, is history.

l Dermot Ahern gives his swansong speech to the Fianna Fil convention