The Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food, Ned O'Keeffe, has resigned. In an exclusive interview with RTÉ News, Mr O'Keeffe has accused the Taoiseach of withdrawing from a deal which he says they struck before Christmas. He says that this would have seen him move to another junior ministry, rather than stand down altogether. Tonight, a Government spokesman refused to comment on whether there was in fact a deal struck between the two.
The leader of the Labour Party Ruairí Quinn said that Mr O'Keefe's resignation is the inevitable outcome of his own serious misjudgement. He added that Mr Ahern's refusal to deal with this issue is yet another failure on his part to show the political leadership we have a right to expect from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Meanwhile, Mr Ahern said that he has accepted the resignation of Mr O'Keeffe with regret.
Mr O'Keeffe has again protested his innocence over claims that he failed to declare a conflict of interest during a Dáil vote last November. He says that he is confident an investigation into an alleged breach of ethics will exonerate him. He said that he resigned yesterday in order to concentrate on the fight to prove his innocence in the forthcoming investigation by the Public Offices Commission. He insists that at all times, the decision to resign was his own.
However, Ned O'Keeffe said that it was his clear understanding that he had an agreement with the Taoiseach that he would be moved to another junior ministry until "due process ran its course". He claims now that that deal has been broken.
During his political career, Ned O'Keeffe has never been far from controversy. The Cork farmer was first elected to the Dáil in November 1982 in the four-seat constituency of Cork East topping the poll in 1997. In 1990, when Fianna Fáil was also in coalition with the Progressive Democrats, he accused the PDs of supporting Mary Robinson in the presidential election and called on his party to opt out of the coalition. However, he reiterated his support for Charles Haughey as leader and was loyal to him throughout the leadership battles that followed. In 1991, he was involved in an incident in the Dáil bar with a female journalist for which he later apologised in the Dáil.
Mr O'Keeffe is known as a pig farmer, but there is probably one piglet in particular that he will be remembered for. He spoke out against the hit movie, Babe, in 1995, when it was reported that pork consumption in the US had dropped since the movie's release. Mr O'Keeffe sent out a press release which recommended that Irish people should boycott what he said was this "ridiculous and harmful film" and enjoy their ham at Christmas.
Finally, after 15 years as a backbencher, Mr O'Keeffe was promoted to the position of Junior Minister at the Department of Agriculture with special responsibility for food. His departure today is likely to create further bitterness in the Government, with Mr O'Keeffe's accusations that officials within the Taoiseach's department wanted him out. His departure is likely to increase rather than ease pressure on the Government.