Fianna Fail party runaway winner in Ireland election

Sunday, May 19, 2002

DUBLIN, Ireland -- Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will remain in office atop a stronger Fianna Fail-led government, analysts and opposition leaders agreed Saturday as results flowed in from a parliamentary election dominated by Ireland's thriving economy.

Michael Noonan, leader of the main opposition Fine Gael party, resigned after his party suffered its most grievous defeat in its 70-year history. He conceded that most voters wanted to keep an Ahern government that presided over Ireland's last five years of economic expansion.

"It's a very, very bad day for Fine Gael. It was beyond our worst expectations and beyond our worst fears," said Noonan, 59, who took charge of Ireland's No. 2 party just 15 months ago in hopes of mounting a serious challenge to Ahern.

The count of Friday's ballots was expected to take all Saturday and, in some closely fought districts, could run into Sunday.

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