Dermot Ahern : biography
Ahern currently lives comfortably in Blackrock near Dundalk with his wife and their two children. His pastimes include playing golf and windsurfing. He is a former Ulster windsurfing champion. Ahern is a former chairman of Rock Celtic soccer club and was also treasurer of Dundalk F.C. Supporter’s Club.
Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs (1997–2002)
Following the 1997 general election a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats came to power and Ahern was appointed Minister for Community, Social and Family Affairs. As Social Affairs Minister Ahern also introduced the largest social welfare and pension increases in Irish history. He also achieved pension rights for Irish people who had emigrated from Ireland prior to 1953.
Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (2002–04)
Following the return of the government at the 2002 general election Ahern was appointed Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources. In this post he was critical of the main telecommunications provider Eircom. His Department introduced a system of Policy Directions to the telecoms regulator mandating, amongst other things, Flat Rate Internet Access. It also devised the Republic of Ireland’s Broadband Action Plan which entailed the government building an alternative fibre infractructure and co-location facilities. He sanctioned a reform package for public service broadcasting in Ireland and introduced a Charter for Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ. His Department introduced a programme to provide free broadband internet access to schools. He secured EU recognition and protection of the Irish Box, an area of Irish territorial waters out of bounds to Spanish and Portuguese fishermen.
Minister for Foreign Affairs (2004–08)
Following a cabinet reshuffle in 2004 Ahern became Minister for Foreign Affairs, the first Louth TD to hold that position since Frank Aiken in the 1960s. Shortly into his tenure in April 2005 Ahern was appointed one of four special envoys for United Nations reform by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
Ahern spoke of the ‘Third Phase’ in Irish foreign policy which he calls "Active Neutrality". This is a vision of non-aligned Ireland taking up its international responsibilities by acting as a bridge between the developed and developing world, and by acting as a world leader in conflict and disasters. In this regard he took an extremely outspoken line on the crisis in Darfur, calling on the international community to ‘wake up to the reality of rape, murder and destruction in the region. More recently Ahern has announced the establishment of an Irish Volunteer Corps and a Rapid Response Corps which would harness existing expertise amongst the Irish public to assist in the developing world. He has stated that, in foreign policy terms, ‘the single greatest, economic, environmental, geopolitical issue now facing us is climate change.’
As Foreign Minister, Ahern was heavily involved in the Northern Ireland peace process. Like many others in his party he describes himself as a republican and stated at the 2006 Seán Moylan commemoration in Cork that "as an Irish Republican my main personal and political goal is to live to see the unity of Ireland."
As Foreign Minister he led a campaign to secure a path to permanent residency for the 25,000 to 50,000 undocumented Irish citizens resident in the United States. He also introduced free passports for Irish senior citizens and had called for a comprehensive ban on the use of cluster munitions. Ahern was the first government Minister to call for a constitutional referendum on the issues arising from the supreme court decision on statutory rape, five months before it became government policy.
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (2008–11)
Ahern was appointed Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on the 7 May 2008 by the new Taoiseach Brian Cowen. On 29 April 2009, Ahern proposed a controversial amendment to the Defamation Bill adding the crime of blasphemy to the statute books.