Ahern accused of 'blatant political cronyism' ahead of poll

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Allegations of cronyism are being made against Fianna Fail, which is well ahead in the Irish general election campaign, over the appointment of a friend of the party leader and Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to an important public post.

With opinion polls pointing to a strong Fianna Fail showing in the election on Friday, the other parties appear increasingly desperate in their attempts to prevent the party securing an overall majority. Fianna Fail has fended off attacks on its management and funding of the health service and the economy generally, while Mr Ahern is personally riding high in the polls.

The crony attack came after the appointment of Joe Burke, a builder and friend of Mr Ahern, as chairman of the Dublin Port Authority. While the selection of friends and allies for such important jobs is a familiar part of Dublin politics, the other parties hope to use it to stir memories of past Fianna Fail jobbery. Fine Gael and Labour denounced the appointment as "blatant political cronyism".

Jim Higgins, a Fine Gael spokesman, said it was "a sneaky, secretive appointment of the Taoiseach's closest associate". He added: "The culture of political cronyism so beloved by Charlie Haughey has re-emerged under Bertie Ahern's reign."

Ruairi Quinn, the Labour party leader, called on Mr Ahern to publish a full list of appointments made since the election was called, saying that the government had made a number of "surprisingly partisan appointments".

Mr Ahern's success during the campaign has lain in emphasising the feelgood factor arising from the past few years of unprecedented prosperity. He has skilfully used this to displace memories of Fianna Fail corruption. His party's strong showing throughout the campaign has been based on the widespread sense that Mr Ahern has competently handled the recent boom, and that much of the electorate sees no pressing reason to depose him.

Fianna Fail has played down speculation that it is on course for an overall majority, a prospect it believes might alarm some voters and spread complacency among party workers. Charlie McCreevy, Minister for Finance, said yesterday that the party believed a coalition with the small right-wing Progressive Democrats party remained the best option, saying this arrangement had worked well over the past five years.

The PDs refrained from joining in the allegations of cronyism yesterday, saying that Mr Burke had a proven business record and was well-qualified for the job.