BRIAN Cowen will this Wednesday, April 9, officially become leader of Fianna Fail - he was the only nomination as Bertie Ahern's successor - and on May 6th he will become taoiseach (prime minister).Despite the growing clamor for Ahern's resignation, when he eventually and without prior warning announced it last April 2 it still took most of Ireland by surprise.He made the an-nouncement at Leinster House just minutes after confirming his intention to his Cabinet colleagues and bringing tears to their eyes, a display of emotion on the part of the male ministers as well as the women that prompted a parting comment from Ahern as he left the room: "Jaysus, I don't need any more of this, get me out of here."Ahern, who served a record 11 successive years as head of government, quit following concerns about his private finances, although he continued to insist that he did nothing illegal but, given the chance, he might have done some things differently.He still faces further questioning next month by the Mahon Tribunal which has spent 10 years investigating allegations of corrupt links between well-placed politicians and leaders of the construction industry.There was near-unanimous agreement to set aside comments on that aspect of Ahern's public life as tributes were paid to his many achievements, not least his role in the establishment of peace in The North.President Mary McAleese led a host of tributes from across a wide spectrum including statesmen, republicans, Unionists, workers' leaders, the business community and leading showbiz celebrities."His contributions to our thriving economy and to peace in Northern Ireland were hugely important and he deserves every credit for the work he has done. Bertie Ahern will be remembered as one of the outstanding politicians of his generation both nationally and internationally," said McAleese.Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who worked on the North's peace process with Ahern, said, "He will always be remembered for his crucial role in bringing about peace in Northern Ireland, for transforming relations between Britain and the Irish Republic."Blair's successor Gordon Brown, who spoke from the Romanian capital, Bucharest, where he was attending a NATO summit, said, "I think the whole of Britain will want to thank Bertie Ahern, and indeed the whole of the United Kingdom, for what was an invaluable and historic contribution to the peace process. _" His commitment to it, seeing it through over many years, supporting Tony Blair and the others who contributed to making possible the Good Friday _Agreement and beyond, is something that will always be remembered in the whole of the United Kingdom."Brown praised Ahern for presiding over an expanding Irish economy and seeing Ireland gaining greater status in the international community.The ink was still drying on Ahern's resignation notice when speculation started over his future.Already supporters are talking about him as a candidate for the position of first president of the Council of the European Union which will be established in 2009 once the Lisbon Treaty, otherwise known as the Reform Treaty, is ratified.One of Ahern's final duties as taoiseach will be his address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C. on April 30.His nominated successor, Cowen, described the invitation to Ahern from Washington as "an extraordinary honor, rarely bestowed." Cowen added, "He has enhanced Ireland's standing in the world."Informed opinion varies on Cowen's likely plans. The 48-year-old former solicitor from Tullamore, Co. Offaly is expected by some to make a number of Cabinet changes, but others, mindful that he would have had an input into the formation of Ahern's administration in any event, believe he will keep changes to a minimum.Most speculation is over who will take over from him as tanaiste (deputy prime minister). Justice Minister Brian Lenihan is favorite. Micheal Martin, Mary Hanafin and Mary Coughlan are reckoned to be the main candidates for the other role Cowen will be vacating, that of finance minister.The son of former Fianna Fail TD (member of Parliament) Bernard Cowen, Brian Cowen was elected to the Dail in 1984 at the age of 24 in the Laois-Offaly constituency after his father's death.Over the years, he acquired a reputation as a formidable political operator. In 1992, after the fall of Charles Haughey, he was appointed by the then taoiseach Albert Reynolds to the post of minister for labor and a year later became minister for energy.He has also served as transport, energy and communications minister, minister for health and minister for foreign affairs before taking over the finance portfolio in 2004.