Bertie 'happy visit took place' despite missing out on Queen's dinner
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has said that while he would have liked to have been invited to the banquet hosted by Queen Elizabeth in honour of President Michael D Higgins, both he and Tony Blair were just "happy enough" to see that the state visit had finally taken place.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent yesterday, Mr Ahern politely refused to be drawn when asked to comment on the absence of his name from the list of invitations to the dinner at Windsor Castle.
Among those who attended the formal white-tie affair were the North's deputy first minister, former IRA commander Martin McGuinness.
Asked for his views on Mr McGuinness's presence at the event, Mr Ahern said: "I think it was very positive that Martin went and I was delighted that he went. Martin's always showed a lot of good leadership in my view and he's always been prepared to hold out the hand and to build and I know he's respected in the Unionist community for that because I've been up there [in the North] so often. I think it was good."
Asked if would have liked to have been at the banquet, which incidentally took place just three days before the 16th anniversary of the historic Good Friday Agreement which he had played such a crucial role in brokering along, he added: "I suppose everyone in the country would have liked to have been there but that's how it is. I think Tony Blair and myself were probably happy enough to see at last that this day had come."
Commenting on the progress which he believes has been made between the Catholic and Protestant communities in the North since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the former Taoiseach said: "Well I think it's great to see the progress that's
been made and there's no doubt about it the root of all the positive things that have happened in the North and the relationship between ourselves and the UK, all have grown out of the Good Friday Agreement. And not so much from the signing of the agreement, but all that happened in the implementation of it, particularly from 1998 to 2007."
Referring to President Higgins's historic visit to the UK, Mr Ahern added: "I was delighted to see the state visit was very successful and I think the President did a fine job, and I'm a member of the Council of State. I think it was a very good visit and a positive visit and it was good to see it being so successful and I think that added to the 2011 visit of the Queen here when President McAleese was in office, I think the two of them have been very good. The reality is there's still a lot more to be done. It doesn't all end here because we've had these visits."
Turning to the matter of the domestic economy and criticisms directed towards him last week in relation to the reliance he said he had given to reports from the ESRI prior to the 2008 crash, Mr Ahern said it was great to "see all the statements" coming out now in response to the think-tank's latest, upbeat report.
"I was always known for reading OECD, IMF and ESRI reports and of course listening to officials in the Central Bank and the Department of Finance. I didn't have any goal or thing to be out there on it. It's great to see all the statements coming out when there's a good ESRI report out and then you're criticised for listening to them [in 2008]," he said.