New Irish leader pursues peace

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The Independent Online
BERTIE AHERN, 43, Ireland's finance minister, was elected unopposed yesterday as leader of its largest party, Fianna Fail.

Mr Ahern committed himself to maintaining ``precisely and exactly'' the Northern Ireland peace strategy of his predecessor, Albert Reynolds.

A left-leaning, working-class pragmatist from north Dublin, Mr Ahern was chosen as the person best placed to repair the coalition with Labour that collapsed last week.

But the most remarkable thing is that, 104 years after bishops brought down Charles Stewart Parnell, the ``lost leader'' who was cited in divorce proceedings because of his affair with Kitty O'Shea, Ireland's most staunchly Catholic party has chosen a man long separated from his wife.

There were angry shouts of ``No!'' when a reporter asked him about the significance of this yesterday.

But Mr Ahern insisted the question be put. ``I am very glad of the understanding my party showed,'' he said. He would be proceeding with social reforms (coded language for divorce, which is still illegal in Ireland) ``in a way that takes account of our particular conditions''.

Consultations with Labour were expected to begin immediately. Should they fail, a new alliance might leave Fianna Fail in opposition, or there might be a general election.

Mr Ahern's victory was assured after his only rival, the Justice Minister, Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, 44, withdrew.

A Dubliner's triumph, page 2

Inside Story, page 19

Leading article, page 22