Sunday 23 September 2018

Brexit looms yet our ministers can't talk to their peers in the North, warns Ahern

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Picture: Tony Gavin
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Picture: Tony Gavin

Laura Lynott

Government ministers are struggling to communicate with their counterparts in Northern Ireland since the collapse of the Stormont Assembly and despite the looming threat of Brexit, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern warned.

Mr Ahern was speaking at DCU to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and said the breakdown in communications was unacceptable.

"I know from talking to Government ministers that there are many issues they want to talk to Northern colleagues about but they have no one to talk to," Mr Ahern said. "It's not fair to the people of Northern Ireland and it's not what the Good Friday Agreement is about."

He said despite the challenges of Brexit and the "distraction" it was causing the British government, no one had the right to "undo" the Good Friday Agreement and a Northern Irish Border "hard, soft or sunny side up" would be a "disaster".

He said the Good Friday Agreement had been long fought for, with "human politics" involving all sides, and a border "would upset everyone on the island of Ireland".

"It would be a travesty for everyone," he said. "We don't want any border, it's a frictionless Border where we can drive freely on this island."

Mr Ahern said he "failed to understand the logic of British negotiators" regarding Brexit and its view on the customs union, stating that when Britain leaves the EU, trade deals would be very difficult.

"What country will give a trade deal to a country of 65 million people?" he said.

"That's not better than a trade deal with 450 million people (in the EU). I don't get that and I don't know of any country stupid enough to do that when they have an agreement with 450 million."

Mr Ahern said one of his only regrets was that decommissioning weapons in Northern Ireland took nine years.

When asked by the audience if there was any way the Northern Irish agreement could be a road map for the Palestine-Israeli conflict to reach resolution, Mr Ahern said he didn't believe so because both sides were still apportioning blame.

"If people are not prepared to accept the status quo is untenable, then speaking about a peace process is useless.

"We have to break it down and there's no blame. If we really want a peace process to work, you have to give peace a really good chance, you have to be inclusive and as comprehensive as possible."

Irish Independent

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