Bertie's back in FF tent - bringing his Brexit 'star-power'
Bertie Ahern doesn't see a return to direct rule in Northern Ireland but admits Northern Irish talks were "scuppered" by British prime minister Theresa May's decision to hold a snap election.
The former taoiseach was firmly back in the Fianna Fáil tent last night as he addressed a party meeting on the impact of Britain's departure from the EU, alongside Fianna Fáil's foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien.
It is believed to be Mr Ahern's first attendance at a public Fianna Fáil event since he resigned from the party in March 2012 following the publication of the Mahon Tribunal report.
Last November, in a move that caused unease among the current Fianna Fáil hierarchy, his own branch in Dublin Central unanimously passed a motion calling for Mr Ahern to be readmitted to the party.
Mr Ahern told the packed room that Britain's snap election shouldn't surprise the people of Northern Ireland.
"Once she (Mrs May) called the elections, that scuppered them totally and now it will be September before people get back to any kind of reality, bar a miracle," he told the meeting.
"The fact that the British government didn't take much concern of Northern Ireland shouldn't surprise even Unionists or Loyalists, not to mind Nationalists or Republicans."
Earlier, Mr Ahern had said: "I would have far preferred to see the executive and the institutions back up and running. They needed a bit of time to do that but unfortunately it's not going to be. It is very hard to make much progress now in the favour of an election...
"Realistically, it is hard to see anything now before the other side of mid-summer. In the North that always runs into a busy season, marching season, holiday season, so you are effectively running into September.
"I am just fearful that if it ran into September then you would effectively have no institutions since Christmas. That's not good for anybody," said Mr Ahern.
He ruled out any suggestion of a return to direct rule and said: "I think we had that period in the early noughties and I don't think the British government will go down that road again.
"The legislation it is bringing in next week hopefully will keep well away from that."
On Brexit, Mr Ahern suggested moving the British border off the coast of Ireland in order to deal with Britain leaving the customs union.
On Taoiseach Enda Kenny's surpassing all other Fine Gael taoisigh in duration of tenure this week, Mr Ahern said "my congratulations to him".
"It is funny how when things change, things stay so silent. When I stayed on a month, it was terrible, it was a marathon ...and now it's gone on months and months and some of the people who were writing continuously about that... don't seem to have anything to say, it's amazing," Mr Ahern joked.
"To answer your question seriously," he continued. "I think the people who are the contenders are taking him at his word, that he is not running in the next election so therefore he will go somewhere over the foreseeable weeks."
Last night's event was organised by Councillor Aengus O'Rourke, the son of former transport minister Mary who said she was "delighted" to have Mr Ahern in Athlone, although the idea did "ruffle a few feathers" at first.