FORMER Taoiseach Bertie Ahern may not have contested his last general election, with informed sources in Dublin Central claiming that he would stand again in the event of a snap election in the coming months.
It is understood that Ahern has privately indicated that if the government were to fall in the short term – taken to mean before the end of the year – he would contest a general election.
Ahern turns 58 next month and, while he was still Taoiseach, he said that he would bow out from the job at 60. Following his resignation as taoiseach last year, it was widely assumed that he would finish as a TD when the current Dáil was dissolved.
If the Dáil runs anything close to its full term (in 2012) that will certainly be the case. However, an early general election later this year would change matters. It is believed Ahern would feel an obligation to the local organisation to contest the election.
However, an early election would present Ahern with a significant personal dilemma. As a head of government for over a decade, he is currently in receipt of a ministerial pension of at least €50,000-plus on top of his TD's salary of €106,000. In June, finance minister Brian Lenihan announced that ministerial pensions would be abolished for sitting TDs and senators after the next general election.
Therefore, if Ahern decided to stand and was elected as a TD he would have to forsake the receipt of that pension until he finally retired from the Dáil. He would therefore be considerably financially worse off if he did decide to contest an early general election because as a retired Dáil deputy he would be entitled to a full ministerial pension and a pension of half a TD's salary.
Despite this, Ahern is said to be ready to run again if there is a general election before Christmas. Privately, senior government figures accept that, given the decisions they have to make in the coming months, there is a "50-50" chance of that happening. But they also believe that if the government can make it through December's budget there is the possibility the Dáil can run close to its full term.
Ahern has an extraordinary electoral record in Dublin Central. In every general election he has contested in the constituency, he has topped the poll and exceeded the quota.
However, the recent by-election and city council election in the constituency – when his brother Maurice failed to a seat either in the Dáil or on Dublin City Council – has raised questions as to whether the most legendary political machine in the country is on the wane.
Local sources believe Ahern would certainly be re-elected were he to stand again, but there are real doubts as to whether he would top the poll. And, based on Fianna Fáil's opinion-poll rating, there would only be one seat for the party in Dublin Central.
If the general election does not take place this year, the two most likely candidates in the constituency are sitting TD, and Ahern ally, Cyprian Brady and local election poll- topper Mary Fitzpatrick. Based on the most recent local elections and the last general election – when Fitzpatrick garnered more first-preference votes – Fitzpatrick would be the clear favourite to take the seat.