Bertie Ahern elected as new Irish premier

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Indy Politics
Bertie Ahern was last night elected Taoiseach with a slim majority in the Dail backed by a centre-right coalition of his Fianna Fail party and its Progressive Democrat ally and three independents.

Mr Ahern achieved just enough support to avoid dependence on the vote of Sinn Fein's sole TD (MP), Caoimhghin O'Caolain, but the narrow majority guarantees a nervous term of office. He received 85 votes from the 166-seat chamber with 78 against. Outgoing premier John Bruton received 75 votes.

Mr Ahern's achievement is belated compensation for the disappointment of 1994 when, just as he was due to step into Albert Reynolds' shoes after the latter's coalition collapsed, a sudden U-turn by Labour partners put him back in opposition.

An affable consensus politician, Mr Ahern, 45, has played a key role in Ireland's economic boom, helping to corral trade unions into a decade of voluntary wage restraint. Previously labour and then finance minister, he broke down old prejudices before divorce was approved by publicly confirming his own marriage failure.

On Northern Ireland, Mr Ahern argued strongly up until last week's Lurgan murders for lines to be kept open to Sinn Fein, and, despite widespread pessimism in Dublin about IRA intentions, could be influential in pressing for a ceasefire.

The new deputy-premier will be Mary Harney, leader of the small centre- right Progressive Democrats, while Raphael "Ray" Burke, 53, inherits Dick Spring's foreign affairs and Northern Ireland role. His selection above deputy FF leader Mary O'Rourke, reflects his closer ties to Mr Ahern, who will himself be directly involved in Northern policy.