The Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland has announced his resignation following an investigation into corruption.
Bertie Ahern, 56, has been Taoiseach since June 1997 and will step down on May 6th.
He has been a strong supporter of gay rights in Ireland.
“He made sure the whole equality legislation, the employment equality acts, the equality authority and equality tribunal legislation was all brought back and he made sure that it progressed rapidly when he became leader,” said Christopher Robson, a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (GLEN).
Two years ago Bertie Ahern told GLEN:
“Our sexual orientation is not an incidental attribute. It is an essential part of who and what we are. All citizens, regardless of sexual orientation, stand equal in the eyes of our laws.”
“Sexual orientation cannot, and must not, be the basis of a second-class citizenship. Our laws have changed, and will continue to change, to reflect this principle.”
In 1993 the Republic of Ireland became one of the last western European countries to legalise homosexuality.
Since Bertie Ahern came to power over ten years ago he has overseen a number of reforms that have given equality to Ireland’s LGBT community.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was outlawed by the Employment Equality Act in 1998 and the Equal Status Act in 2000.
These laws forbid discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising, collective agreements, the provision of goods and services and other publicly available opportunities.
On July 16, 2007, Mr Ahern spoke in favour of gay unions:
“We will legislate for Civil Partnerships at the earliest possible date in the lifetime of this Government.”
Following a meeting of Mr Ahern’s cabinet in October 2007, the government said it would introduce legislation by the end of March 2008 and expects the bill to pass within a year of that.
The legislation is expected to be presented next week.
Mr Ahern has frequently spoken out against discrimination:
“I would like to see a 21st century Ireland where the culture of discrimination and fear that blighted so many lives simply withers away,” he said last year.
“I want to see a country where one by one the law builds upon the progress we have made and deals with the important issues that remain.
“I want a country where our culture matures to the points where people’s sexuality is irrelevant as a negative factor in their lives.
“I hope that diversity, however, will be always remain a positive force.”
The announcement of his resignation was made today at a news conference.
“I know in my heart of hearts I have done no wrong and wronged no-one,” he said.
“My decision is motivated by what is best for the people. It is a personal decision.
“I will not allow issues related to my own person to dominate the people and the body politic.”
Mr Ahern said that he was confident that he would be vindicated in the inquiry:
“I have never received a corrupt payment and I’ve never done anything to dishonour any office that I’ve ever held.”
The Taoiseach has received a number of tributes from politician around the globe.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown released a statement saying:
“He made a historic contribution in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland, transforming Ireland’s relationship with the UK, and playing a key role in the development of a forward looking and dynamic Europe.”
Mr Ahern’s children became famous during his time in office. Her daughter Cecilia is an acclaimed and highly-popular novelist, best known for P.S. I Love You.
Her older sister Georgia is married to Westlife singer Nicky Byrne.